Uncle Tom's Cabin (or at least that's how I remember it)
When I was growing up, my parents were super-intentional about carving out the time and money for family vacations. I don’t remember there ever being a summer, in fact, when we didn’t go on vacation. We were, some years, even on vacation for two weeks at a time. Though we always had everything we needed and plenty of extra things too in our life and home, we weren’t rich – it wasn’t that taking trips like this were without a heck of a lot of planning, I’m sure. While we went to beautiful beaches along the Wisconsin shorelines, we normally ate packed lunches and ordered waters or split meals if we went out to eat. The point is, my parents made it happen because that special family time was a priority and worth the effort.
Believe me, now as a mother, I can appreciate the massive amount of work and stuff traveling with young children entails. I now cringe at the memory of Dad and us 3 kids in the car ready to pull out honking at mom inside the house and giving impatient “c’mon Mom, what the heck are you doing in there?s” or the ever-famous “don’t forget the kitchen sink/snowshoes/insert-best-ridiculous-item-here Mom!” (Sorry Dad, but I’ve jumped ship and sided with Mom on this now!!) By the way, this post deserves my repeatedly adding “or at least that’s how I remember it” since I was a kid…
It is insane how much
sh crap stuff comes along with us on vacation and how much careful deliberation it takes to (a) remember the vitals, (b) include the things that will just make life easier, and, then, most importantly, (c) get it to fit in the car.
Some other interesting things that should be mentioned:
- Entertaining children in the car (without individual TV/gaming systems and pre-packaged snack packs) – now when I was young, seatbelts were a normal part of riding in a car, but on vacation, we slept/played/ate on the floor while in transit. I think it’s safe to say that most people operated this way. Things were different back then. I’m not saying it’s not fantastic that we have more information now for safer travel, but I am saying that I’m certain we kids weren’t strapped in 5-point-harnesses for hours on end. We had a blue astro van – does anyone else remember those 90’s versions? We had 4-60 air-conditioning for much of the drive. That means 4 windows open at 60 mph (well, maybe more like 4-75/80 with Dad driving…don’t get me wrong, he’s an awesome chauffer and could be the live version of a global GPS). The sound in the van on an interstate was much like sitting in the back of an airplane right next to the jets. Crazy loud. And if you even considered trying to close one of the sonic-boom-decibel windows that opened and closed on a flippy-latchy-thingy, you knew you were at risk for losing at least one finger with the speed-defying intensity in which they snapped shut. Kinda the whole would you rather be blind or deaf age-old question? Or at least that’s how I remember it. I also remember one time smelling chocolate chip cookies from the front bucket seat and later realizing upon crawling to the very back (at least 20 feet behind me… or at least that’s how I remember it) that my brother had broken into the homemade chocolate chip cookies Mom had made and was sitting in a lawn chair – yes, in the back seat – eating them up. That’s how freakin’ awesome that car was. A lawn chair! And, now come to think of it, that’s how freakin’ awesome my mom was for packing up enough crap to sustain us if we were stranded on a desert island and still find time to make homemade chocolate chip cookies for the trip. My other favorite memory of road trips was spending gobs of time with my Dad giving us song titles and pitches for which harmony part we were on. We would spend hours singing songs and making up harmonies. Sometimes hymns. Sometimes folk songs. Sometimes the ever-popular “Diarrhea” song which we could come up with about a million phrases that rhymed and fit the song. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
- Figuring out naps and new schedules – I know from memory and from my folks saying it now that schedules and naps weren’t thought of in a structured sense like ours are. This is neither good nor bad, just what we each have done, but no matter what, kids, adults, everyone is affected by road trips, driving, sleeping in new places.
- Packing daily lunches
- Taking the freaking time to apply repeated sunscreen (did we even do that when we were little?)
- Saving up the money for the trip
Perhaps what I love most about thinking of these vacations though are the little things that were surely specific to my family. If you know my parents, you can attest to this truth that they know no strangers. I’m fairly certain that I have always enjoyed this strike-up-a-convo-with-anyone way about them and my sister has taken more of can-I-hide-under-a-rock-now-you’re-embarrassing-me stance. For instance, visit any one of a myriad of our go-to restaurants around town and my mother will know most of the wait staff and management by name. My dad can pretty much see any Indiana license plate and, from the numbers (letters? something else?) and tell you within which county a person lives. This combo of knowledge and willingness to be chatty with strangers means that we could not go very many places without meeting people and finding mutual friends among them. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
So when we went to this old schoolhouse-turned-candy-factory in Door County, Wisconsin, we made fast friends with Uncle Tom, the elderly owner. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we were upstairs, above his candy store, where he lived all sitting around his family room singing songs while he accompanied us on his organ. Then, we were coming back to see him every year. Or at least that’s how I remember it. It wasn’t really called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. It was “Uncle Tom’s Candies”, but I think I called it that being that the renown novel had such a close name.
When I think of all these things, I know that vacation has a special place in my heart because it’s a time of proximity (literally rubbing elbows in cars and hotel rooms) and intimacy with each other that is hard to achieve in many other ways. It’s a time of swapping stories. It’s a time of finding little corners of the world that only you and the people you shared the trip with can recount when you’re back home. It’s a time where year to year you can track progress on who was brave enough to jump off the rock that year, who was little enough to slide down the stairs in the place you stayed every year, who was finally tall enough to ride that ride, who was old enough to remember directions to all of your favorite places around town. It was a time of creating memories and repeating them with those you cherished most and who were the only other ones in the entire world who could understand both the memories and understand you because of them. Or at least that’s how I remember it… and certainly why we continue to do it.