Thursday, April 22, 2010

I have a dream… of a double-wide

In the USA we have a type of pre-fabricated housing that is factory-built on wheels and shipped to it’s semi-permanent location via tractor-trailer.  We call them “trailers,” and a neighborhood that is composed of many of these “trailers”  is called a trailer park.  Sometimes these trailers are built in two halves that are each just wide enough to transport on the normal road system and then at their destination they are put back together.  We call these “double-wides.”

When my father was 15 or so, his father retired from 20+ years in the US Navy; his last assignment was in Washington State, on the northwestern tip of the continental US, but he announced to the family, much to their chagrin that they were moving to the Atlanta area where a friend was holding a job as a security guard with Lockheed.  My grandfather thought it was the perfect plan; the rest of the family wanted to stay in the Pacific Northwest.

My grandfather packed up his wife, three kids and the family’s possessions (which included a small motorboat on a boat trailer – see the picture below) and headed south-east for the 2,700 mile (4,200 km) trip to Marietta, Georgia.  On the trip down, Smitty (as he was known to his friends and grandchildren) talked incessantly about how he was going to buy a trailer across the street from the VFW where he would spend his free time drinking himself into oblivion.  In case you don’t know what a VFW is, it is a place where you can buy and consume large quantities of cheap beer.  Smitty wanted to be within walking distance to avoid DUIs.


My sister, Christine, my cousin Clair, Smitty and Me circa 1974

My father, being the oldest son begged Smitty to reconsider, and to buy a normal house that would be big enough for two adults, two teenagers and a pre-teen son.  The other family members joined in trying to convince Smitty to buy a real house.  For some reason Smitty had it in his head that he wanted to live in a double-wide.  Apparently years earlier he had stayed in Marietta in an old Navy buddy’s mobile home when he was in town for training.

In the end reason won out, and my grandfather’s dream was put on hold for a few years.  Instead of the trailer, Smitty bought a house and a service station (which happened to be in front of a bar where Smitty would retire to after my dad got home from school and could relieve him of his duties pumping gas, changing tires and other sundry repairs to customers’ vehicles).  That same service station is where my dad learned how to work on cars, a skill that he taught me and a skill that I plan on passing down to my children.

Several years later, however, Smitty and my grandmother, Barbara (more on her later) split up and my grandfather met Val.  (More on Val in another blog.)  Smitty and Val packed up, and moved to Panama City (also known colloquially as “the Redneck Riviera”) where he finally achieved his dream:  Smitty bought a single-wide trailer that was no more than 60 yards from a VFW post.  He found himself a job working as a security guard and parked the little motorboat in back of the trailer beside the above-ground propane tank.  After a couple years, he talked my dad into coming down and helping him add on to the trailer to make it more like a double-wide.


Val and Smitty

We would visit as children in the summer.  The little trailer was right down the road from one of the nicest beaches in the world.  When we would visit, my grandfather Smitty and Val were gracious hosts, but since my grandfather had given up drinking the two of them smoked incessantly.  In fact they had such a phobia of not having a lit cigarette available at any given moment they would light up another cigarette before the last one had finished.  At times there were four or more cigarettes going at one time.  It was like they had installed a permanent fog machine from a nightclub in their front room.  If I ever end up with lung cancer, I will know why.

Eventually Smitty went to that great trailer-park in the sky (kidney failure), and Val followed a few years later.

Strangely enough, my father had different dreams.  He now lives in a gorgeous brick house that is roughly nine times the size of Smitty’s “quaint” trailer.  It sits on an acre lot in a lovely neighborhood with a pool and tennis club.

At least I know that my family has a history of achieving their dreams.


  1. Well written, love! That picture of Smitty is crazy- you and Christine look so little.

  2. It's interesting how one child's dream can be so much different from his parents and how that change of dream can affect his children in such a positive way. Nice article!

  3. Good article Ernie..very interesting how he shaped the future in that way and had a positive impact like Doreen said. Good stuff!

  4. This is my dad. Why wait till someone is dead to talk about them. Maybe u should let ur live granddad know what he did to his family now &what it did to ur family. Get It off ur chest while they r here to hear it.
    TY for the call. Love you auntie Irene