My brother gave me a decorative plate of the Old Man on the Mountain a few years ago. I think it’s for resting hot pots upon, but I don’t want to damage it so it sits proudly on a mantle. The Old Man on the Mountain is etched and painted on this plate, a symbol of childhood trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I think my brother and New Hampshire friends would vouch for me, anytime you’d drive up North the search for the Old Man on the Mountain was all consuming. Parents most likely got a break from squabbling children. Or perhaps it was the opposite; was all the “where is he, I can’t see him” an annoying alternative to “are we there yet?” I don’t think it really matters because when you talk to any person who had the fortune of experiencing the Old Man on the Mountain, the feelings and stories are always warm and nostalgic.
When I started driving, my best friend and I would often take road trips, just for fun. We once drove to Virginia to visit a friend in college. It took ten or 12 hours, I can’t even remember, and we only spent a day and night there before heading home again. I moved to NY in my twenties and thought nothing of the four and a half hour drive to or from New Hampshire. As a child I went on family vacations down south to the Carolinas. I tell my son about the 15+ hours spent in a car driving to our destinations. Of course it would be a lot longer than that because you’d stop a dozen times along the way to see the sites. We’d stop at diners and be shocked at the different foods and accents.
We went to kerry last year. The drive took three hours. Since that drive, anytime my son wants to know how long something will take, he automatically compares it to the drive to kerry. “What???? I’m in school LONGER THAN THE DRIVE TO KERRY?” 🤣
As a child I learned to enjoy the journey to the destination nearly as much as the destination itself. The anticipation, the increasingly changing and different landscapes. The Old Man on the Mountain enhanced that experience, that journey up to the White Mountains and its many attractions, North Conway, Clarks Bears, Mount Washington (NH’s highest mountain which by the way you can DRIVE UP), the Cog Mountain Railway, and many famous views and hikes along the way.
We didn’t fly as much in the 80s and 90s. Its so easy now to hop on a plane and arrive somewhere in a couple hours, ready for vacation mode. My parents would have reminded us that you’d miss a lot of sites along the way by flying. I remember the excitement as a child driving over a huge suspended bridge, thinking how tiny and toy like the ships seemed below. The first time I had biscuits and gravy at a local diner in Virginia. Running and racing around Civil War forts with my brother, happy to stretch our legs. We were small, I think I was maybe six in the photo, and we’re clearly teasing and fighting, as you do at 6 and 10 years old. We most likely drove our parents mad with the childhood bickering, for HOURS AND DAYS, of driving. Fair play to them, I don’t think I’d have the patience. All the “If I have to pull this car over!” threats in the world wouldn’t stop all out war from breaking out from our three in the back seat.
We’ve had some amazing family vacations over the past few years, and while I’m not devaluing them, I AM stating that they are very different from the vacations of my childhood. My children will surely think the same in relation to their family vacations someday. That’s just life isn’t it?
There is no Old Man on the Mountain in New Hampshire anymore. Perhaps he felt neglected and ignored as vacation makers began setting off on jet set holidays around the world and just threw himself off the mountain. 🤣 No, it was erosion that did it to the poor Old Man, one day his face just fell into a heap of rubble below. Imagine the families that happened to be staring or driving past when that happened! 😱 I hear there have been talks of rebuilding the Old Man. Personally I’ve learned recreating experiences for my children often fails. Perhaps the Old Man on the Mountain would be the same. I think it’s a story we can share with our children, and laugh as they appear shocked that we’d drive two hours to look at a silhouette. They’ll never know the fun I had sitting for hours with my brother, laughing and playing games, teasing and bickering. The car was never quiet; there was no air conditioning and the windows were cranked all the way down to allow the chaotic hot air to blow in on us. My brother and I were either talking, or fighting, or playing the licence plate game. Mom and dad were usually chatting. The radio might be on, Oldies 103 or talk radio. We’d drive up North and back in a day, taking in all the sites in between. Trips and long drives were not reserved for annual holidays.
We had an amazing holiday in North Conway a couple years ago with my family. There was no Old Man on the Mountain, and now we need two big cars to bring our growing families up North. I hear my (then 5 year old) son enjoyed the drive in my brother’s car. He still has a Ninja Turtle that my brother gave him on the journey and recalls the drive whenever he stumbles upon the toy. I was instead sat between 18 month old twins. One cried the ENTIRE TWO HOUR DRIVE. I was a shaken, sweaty mess by the time we arrived, and yet my dad seemed calm and collected from the drivers seat. I suppose he has a lot of practice. Either that or he holds his composure much better than me.
My son found a stone today, remarking it’s like the Old Man with sunglasses on. I paused thinking how funny it is he’d make that connection, the Old Man on the Mountain, from across the Atlantic who is long gone. I smile, it’s amazing the memories a plate on the mantle can bring back, and the conversations it can generate.