Note – Last year my mom asked for a memory for Christmas. This is mine. (Posted with permission)
I was lying flat on my back with eyes tightly closed. I could hear the sound of the wind in the branches and the various shouts of joy from kids enjoying the summer day. I was not enjoying the day. I was quite miserable. My universe was filled with darkness, pain and sound. I could hear the buzz of distant cars and flying insects. I could hear the various sounds of people going about their day in a large campground. Above all, and much closer, were the sounds of my mother’s crocheting needles clickity-clacking together in an asymmetric rhythm. Every so often there was a pause and the sound of the scissors cutting some yarn.
In my mind’s eye I could see my mother absent-mindedly dropping the scissors and having them strike me in some vital organ. I would crack open the good eye, see how far away my mom was from me and, with a sigh of relief, close it again. The clickity-clacking would start back up and I’d feel better until the next time the scissors were picked up. The one eye would be cracked again just to be sure.
This little vacation, a kind of “girls night out” but with kids, was not going exactly as planned. My mom and newly-single Aunt Shirley had packed up the 5 boys and headed out to Smokey Mountain National Park. They needed to show the world that they could live as independent women in the wild world and brace the frontier with the unruly brood of boys.
Things went slightly amiss on the first day when somebody broke into the camp and stole all of the food, every last morsel. I, for one, didn’t mind the lower class grub we had to eat due to the reduced budget, but I know it was a financial hardship, particularly in the days of 100% cash transactions. I doubt if the 2 ladies had a piece of plastic between them and had to do everything with the old fashioned money made of paper. Well, going shopping for a second time made that paper quite scarce.
For the most part, despite the lack of funds, the trip actually went quit well. The Park is a wonderful place and very beautiful. I love mountains and had a blast. But there was still drama to come.
Back at the campground one afternoon we kids decided to play pool tag. My brother, Shane, was “it”. He got out of the pool, which should have been against the rules, and dove in after me. Of course I didn’t move fast enough and ended up with his fingers in my eye. Literally. My eye bled. Not the area around the eye, but the actual eyeball. At least it was the white part. Still, just the idea of a bleeding eyeball makes the skin crawl.
So, screaming up to the camp I went. I could still see, so my mom had me lie on the ground to calm down and see how I felt. I felt I wanted to go to the emergency room, but I lied down with thoughts of my friend Keith running through my mind. Only a year before Keith had cut his eye in half with a knife and so was mostly blind in that eye.
All I could do was lie there, clickity-clacking crocheting needles above my head, fear going through me every time the scissors were picked up. I tried to think happy thoughts, not thoughts about Keith. Not thoughts of bleeding eyes or scissors sticking out of my gut.
Ah, travel. There’s nothing like getting out into the wide world. My family actually did quite a bit of it as I was growing up. In fact, many of my fondest memories are of travel.
I can still remember the White Mountains of New Hampshire that I saw as a 4 year old. When I returned 21 years later they greeted me as an old friend. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was along with us on that trip. The destination was the Maine coast. I remember my grandfather saying “Bah Habah”, his southern twang trying to mimic the Down East drawl. I remember mountain streams and the large expanse of the ocean with the more life-sized tidal pools to play in. I screamed when I pulled an arm off of a starfish, thinking I’d killed it. Rocks and salt air fill most of my few memories. Family and a lost sneaker make up the remainder. Back in Ohio my grandfather would throw a coin around the world and have it land in his hat with a “thunk”.
We had a trip to Florida, but my mom couldn’t make that one. She was finishing her degree at Kent. Seems strange today, but she was going there at the same time the shootings happened. Not literally in the crowd of protesters, but she attended during that period, the same year as the Florida vacation.
From Florida I remember being lost in a huge campground and wandering for what seemed like hours. I remember seeing dorsal fins in the distance and watching a bunch of teenagers swim out to see if they were sharks or dolphins. I remember seeing one stage of a mighty Saturn V being readied for the next Moon mission.
The year after Florida we took a trip to California which really stands out. I remember climbing the ladder at Keet Seel while the rest of the family finished lunch. They knew I would have to be coaxed up and would take forever. I had proven that at Mesa Verda where a whole large group of tourists had to wait while I climbed one painful rung after the next painful rung followed by a wait and then the next rung, inching my way up the ladder. So when we went to the Navaho National Monument and had to climb an even longer ladder they finished lunch as I made the long, difficult climb. No waiting for Trent this time.
Of course there were many good times on that trip. Mountains, game shows, beaches, empty desert and tall trees, it was a great adventure. We picked up sharks teeth in Texas and caught sharks off of a beach in California. We experienced the foreign cultures of Mexico and Utah. We stood in mountain snow one morning and braved the desert heat of over 100 that afternoon. From San Francisco to the Bad Lands, from Mount Rushmore to the Grand Canyon, of all of the “must see” places west of the Mississippi we saw them all with the exception of those in Washington and Oregon.
Going to Colorado in 1976 was one of my favorites. I was old enough to actually hike and climb in the mountains. This time I raced up the ladder at Mesa Verda. Mining towns, narrow gage railroad and Native American ruins are some highlights. Fishing, golfing, hiking, shopping, etc., it was a very memorable time.
There was the Washington DC trip. I should say Washington trip #2 in 1977. I have very few memories of the first trip except seeing the infinity symbol in front of the Smithsonian. From the side it looked like infinity but it was actually a large Mobius strip. I stared at it and followed the path for what to my young mind seemed like hours, eternity. I also remember the much older kids we were with. It was one of the ancient teenagers who pointed out infinity to boggle my young mind. I think I was 6. For the second trip, though, I was in the prime of my school career. We were there during cherry blossom season. Of course being hundreds of miles from home we bumped into another Vermilion teacher in the Smithsonian. The Space Museum stands out, as does showing a group of Russians how to use a demo version of what would later become an ATM machine. This was in a special exhibit about banking at the Smithsonian. All of Washington was full of peanut trinkets….
Dawn had to miss both the Colorado trip and the one to Washington. As we began to age the large-scale family vacations dried up. We still did things together, but nothing even close to the magnitude of the trip to California. Of course the 1980s were filled with University and starting off life on my own so there was very little travel with the family beyond a handful of reunions.
In the early 1990s I took my last major trip with my parents. Well, the last one so far. It was an early winter trip to the British Isles. We did a whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Ireland (the Republic, not Northern). This vacation was just me, my parents and my nephew Adam. It was great. I think my mom saw it as a home-coming of sorts. She has always felt an ancestral pull from England and it seemed natural going into a small shop in a small village for tea.
For this trip to England I played tour guide. I had researched it and suggested an itinerary. My dad took a map and my plan and worked it out to see as much as possible. Besides the normal stops at Strafford and Stonehenge we saw ancient chamber tombs, long burrows, great mounds and huge henges. There was also Wells, Blarney, Bunratty Castle (a midnight New Year’s Eve madrigal dinner in an old Irish castle!), Maiden’s castle (a huge Iron Age hill fort), various Roman ruins including Bath and the many sites of London. OK, and there was a lot more! Old rooks and ancient castles on the banks of the Thames fought for attention with great museums. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Medieval, Restoration, and Industrial Revolution all lived in harmony with the modern. We visited each of these ages making it a tour of not only place but time. Of course like any typical McDonald vacation this one involved huge amounts of driving…
In the more immediate past my vacations with my parents have been much quieter. Typically we spend them on Cape Cod. It’s a relaxing time, a time for reading and writing. It’s a time for walks on the beach to take pictures of seals and strolls through Provincetown. Some more strenuous activity, such as paddles on the kayak, are also involved but for the most part it’s down time. Mom and Diane make annual visits to Chatham to explore the shops looking at books, curios, jewelry and second hand wears. My parents get to share the house, and sometimes the car, with our 2 dogs. It’s cozier, less frantic and much more relaxing than trips of the past. No long hours sitting in a car.
Through the years I have seen a large chunk of the country and even some places outside of the country, such as Mexico, Canada and Great Britain, with my parents. Besides the major trips mention above there were many jaunts to see relatives in Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and Iowa. Then there were the “boys only” trips to Canada and Michigan.
Now that I think of it, my mom and my Aunt Shirley had gone to the boys’ fishing spots in Michigan and Canada. In fact, just a few years back I spent a week with my parents, Aunt Shirley and her husband Jim in Canada. It was the last year in the old cabins, the cabins I had spent large chunks of my youth with “the guys” on fishing trips. Sitting around a fire with my mom and Aunt Shirley I had to think back to another time sitting around another fire with the two of them.
Back in the Smokey Mountains I slowly began to open the hurt eye. Blood was crusted around it, stuck to the lashes, so I had to slowly and painfully work it open. I could see. They eye looked horrible, but it worked. The red marks, little half-moons of finger nails, would last for months. But the important part was that I wouldn’t have to go through life like my friend Keith, blind in one eye.
Besides the mountains and the campground I remember the various trips into Gatlinburg and wondering about a ski resort so far south. I also remember sitting in a restaurant in Cherokee during a rain shower. Despite the food, despite the injury, it was a very successful vacation. It worked. I healed and hold no scars, just memories, memories of the Great Smokey Mountains and surrounding lands; memories of my family, my ever mobile family, going here and there together, in snow, sun, rain, injury, sickness and health.
Through the good and bad, here, there and everywhere, we traveled on. May we always explore this wonderful world together.
For my Mother on Christmas, 2013