There was something . . . incomplete about our summer vacation this year. We spent a relaxing week at beautiful Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. But there was something missing . . .
On one of our last nights at Deep Creek, as I lay in bed I realized that an era had come to an end. The Simpson Family Vacation was probably a thing of the past.
You see, since my daughter Autumn (now 17) was very young we have taken two Family Trips each year. I know she was an infant when we started because I remember trying to cram her baby tub into the trunk of our compact car along with the suitcases when we went for a driving trip in Vermont. It was one of those trips where we stayed somewhere different every night, so I had lots of practice “fitting” (smashing, pushing, cursing) that bright blue plastic oval-from-hell into the trunk.
Every summer, we’ve headed out on a variety of adventures. We’ve been lots of places – from Utah to the big cities of the Northeast to Iceland and England – but the best thing about the trips was that we were TOGETHER. There is nothing like a family vacation to get on each other’s’ nerves in new places, to experience fresh disagreements instead of the same old disputes, and to find out that dad likes to get up and going on vacation when everyone likes to sleep in.
Even though things often went wrong.
I’ve lost my wallet in at least two states and a foreign country. But it’s always come back. How else would we have gotten to visit the Stratford upon Avon Police Headquarters? That was the day before I flattened a “tyre” on the too-big, not the compact car we ordered when I rammed a curb in Bath.
Earlier in that trip next to a beautiful lake in Iceland, I was dive bombed by an angry arctic tern. She gave my head a good peck as I foolishly tried to snap her picture while the rest of the family wisely took cover in the car.
Weather hasn’t always been perfect. According to the car thermometer, it was 116 degrees the day we hiked and rode horses in Zion National Park. We ended up in Disney World one year on the Fourth of July when it was well over a hundred with Florida humidity only made worse when the park got so crowded they stopped letting people in (“That almost never happens” said a Mouse employee in a cheery voice that implied, “Aren’t you lucky!) At the other extreme, we about froze in June the day we went to Mount Rushmore on my son’s “we’ll go anywhere in the US since you’ve graduated from high school” trip (he wanted to see “The Heads.”)
Then there was probably our best vacation – a week at a ranch in Wyoming where we learned to ride horses and herd cattle. But early in the week Autumn was struck with altitude sickness at an 8000-feet-above-sea-level ranch in Wyoming where we spent a week. Thank goodness she had just gotten off the horse when she passed out; it was scary enough on the ground.
Yes, Simpson Family Vacations have presented plenty of challenges. Maybe that’s part of what’s supposed to happen on Family Trips – you learn you can, together, get through whatever life throws at you.
It was usually the unplanned and unexpected that highlighted the trips. Often that involved animals. We didn’t expect the prairie dog town beside the road to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to be more memorable than the tower itself. We didn’t plan to spend a day in Custer State Park near “The Heads,” but we saw more buffalo and other animals that day than we had in any zoo visit – and they were in the wild. We didn’t even know the massive “Best Friends Forever” Animal shelter existed before our Grand Canyon trip, but our unplanned visit there to see so many abandoned dogs being cared for was inspiring fun. And feeding the turtles who lived in the pond next to our Outer Banks vacation rental was the prime memory of our week in a rented Hatteras house.
Even disappointments were memorable. Like the whales we didn’t see on the “guaranteed whale watching excursion” out of Reykjavik. The “Puffin Island” we sailed past was pretty cool, though. Also disappointing was the several-days of driving and hiking through the Maine woods searching for a moose; the only one we found was Lenny the Chocolate Moose at a candy store.
Perhaps Our Best Day Ever was the day we went to Legoland in England as part of a game show winnings financed trip. The weather was perfect and I hadn’t lost my wallet or flattened the tyre yet. Phil got to fulfill a lifelong (13 years) dream to visit the land of the Legos, and 7-year old Autumn got her “Driving License” in an electric car on the left side of the road at the Legoland Driving Academy. But the highlight of the day was probably the farmhouse B&B we blundered into – not only were there a variety of farm animals available for petting and feeding, but there were two dogs that needed walking. Autumn still remembers walking those dogs probably more than anything else about England.
When you take a Family Trip, the whole exercise becomes about possibility. Memories of discoveries made become family keepsakes to be taken out and enjoyed as much – or perhaps moreso, because they are always available – than the souvenirs and pictures.
Maybe we couldn’t always really afford to take those trips, but they are some of the best money we ever spent. They’re a big reason all the WWTBAM and Jeopardy! money is gone. A financial planner would have probably told us to stay home a few summers. But, yeah, like the commercials say . . . priceless.
I’m writing this not just to share these memories, or to preserve them for myself, but to encourage other families, especially parents with young kids, to get out there. Not only have we gotten closer, but Philip and Autumn have experienced different places and people. They discovered they love the wide open spaces of the west. Hopefully the horizons of their dreams are similarly larger.
Make big plans, but allow time for the simple and the surprising. One year we rented a cabin on top of a mountain in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. The view was awesome, we took day trips to hike up mountains, play in streams, and explore towns. But our most vivid family memory of that week is the fun we had in a tire swing that hung from a big tree next to the cabin.
That’s an image I’ll keep with me always . . . I have a feeling that even when I’m older and not sure what I did yesterday, I’ll remember swinging in that tire with my family.
So, yes, I’m sort of grieving. The Simpson Family Vacation may indeed be a thing of the past. But I – no, WE – have the memories. They are ours. Together.