This Is No Longer a Vacation; It's a Quest!

As I get ready to go to Chicago, I find myself reflecting on many years of family vacations. Truth to tell, I think some of the vacations are wrapped up into moving trips, because we made plenty of those too. At any rate, here is a sampling of what would happen on a Flower Family Vacation.

1. I remember once, when I was four or five, driving through the country. I think we were going to my grandparents' house.

[It's important that you should know that I did not grow up in the country; at that point, all I'd ever known was the city, with its overcrowded streets and its bridges that broke up in the middle when ships were going through and its gas shortages when we'd be at the gas station for hours and its Moonies selling stuff on the highway when we were stuck in traffic jams.]

So when we were driving past all these farms, out in the wilderness, or whatever, I kept seeing these huge piles of yellow stuff. I didn't know what they were; they looked like cinnamon rolls stood up on their sides. I asked my parent what they were, and my mom opened her mouth to speak. Before she could form her first word, my dad said, "It's elephant poop." I didn't ask any more questions.

But I did, until I was nine or ten, think that giant hay bales were elephant poop. It made sense to me: elephants are big, therefore their poop must be big too. I guess I never did wonder what all those cows were doing on an elephant farm.

2. My sister Joon always got carsick. This was bad, because we did not take short trips. My mom would drug us up with Dramamine, but she didn't tell us she was doing this at first.

One time, we stopped to eat at a Dairy Queen, and I had a hamburger. My mom "fixed" it for me. Well, I took a huge bite, and that thing was RANK. It tasted completely disgusting and bitter and sour and not at all like a hamburger should. I took the bun off, and there, sitting on my burger, sucking all the tasty-goodness out, was a tiny Dramamine pill. I was not going to let that pass, and I refused to swallow that Dramamine OR to finish that hamburger.

After that, I never had to take Dramamine again, but Joon always did. Sometimes it didn't work though. I myself, in spite of my Dramatic Dramamine Strike of 1981, never was carsick.

3. I read in the car. Two books stand out for me when I think of vacations: first, Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I read this book when we went to Texas for Christmas of 1982; second, The Secret Garden. My parents bought this book for me during a vacation in Boston, and I read it on the way home. To this day, these are two of my favorite books.

Sometimes my mom would buy workbooks for Joon and me. So I would be on vacation, and I would DOING MATH PROBLEMS.

Occasionally, we would get coloring books and a big box of crayons. They would melt in the car--usually on the first day of the trip.

4. We spent a lot of time camping. It was cheap, and my family likes cheap. We didn't have any high-class RV, either; we slept in a TENT. I'm surprised, actually, that we did camp so much, because our first camping trip was a complete disaster, and that is no exaggeration.

I was probably five, so Joon was three, when we went camping for the first time. We borrowed a tent from someone, and headed out into the mountains. I don't remember very much of the part where we put up the tent, or had dinner, or made a fire. I DO remember how there was a huge thunderstorm in the middle of the night, and the tent started leaking. I remember my dad having a migraine headache, so my mom had to try her best to stop the leaks on her own. And I remember how we had to pack up in a hurry and go home around four o'clock in the morning.

Eventually, we tried again, and we got to the point that we had an entire attic full of camping equipment. When we would get to the campsite, everybody had a job. Joon and I would hold tent poles in place while our Dad would hammer the stakes in the ground with the back of a hatchet. My mom would set up the "kitchen," which was comprised of a kerosene-powered stove and a plastic tub for washing dishes. Joon and I would gather firewood or go get water from a pump.

It never failed, when we were camping, that I would have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I would lie awake for a long time, until I couldn't hold it any longer, and then I would wake one my parents and make them escort me to the bathroom.

It's because of camping that I don't eat eggs: the smell of scrambled eggs cooking on a skillet over a campstove--ugh, I can smell it now, with my nose memory. It's tied up with the sound of owls hooting in the mornings, and the brisk air of a new day in the forest. Those last two always make me think of the first one.
Camping is also what caused me to be a huge scaredy-cat. Because what do people do around a campfire at night? They tell ghost stories. So, when I was lying awake, trying not to wet myself, I would listen for a crazed escapee from the local asylum, who would probably come into our campsite and try to kill us all in our sleeping bags.

Around the time I graduated from high school, my parents decided they were too old to go camping anymore. Over the years we had gotten increasingly spoiled, so on a trip to Dollywood, we had air mattresses to sleep on (still in the tent though). I think their air mattress deflated, and there was a cold snap that we were unprepared for, and then a family of ducks kept quacking past our tent, and also it rained, and the people at the next campsite got drunk a lot. So that was the end of our camping days.

5. My parents always tucked something educational in with the fun stuff we did on vacations. So if we went to a theme park, we would also go to a battlefield or other historic places. I always liked these outings, but Joon hated them. I cannot tell you how many restored homes we've been to, and the truth is, they are all kind of jumbled up in memory into one gigantic house that is Colonial, Victorian, Antebellum, Georgian, Edwardian, etc.

Now, I'd rather do the educational stuff than go to a theme park. This is either because I'm old or because I'm a giant nerd. Actually, it may be a little of both.

6. One time we went to Pensacola, and we got lost. Now, my dad likes to blame the many "shortcuts" we've taken on my mom; he says that he will ask her for directions, then do the opposite of what she says, and he'll get to his destination. But this time, Joon and I were treated to a full-on Three Stooges routine.

Dad: Do I turn left here?
Mom: Right. [she meant correct]
Dad turns right.
Mom: You were supposed to turn left.
Dad: You said right.
Mom: Yes, RIGHT.
Dad: So I turned right.
Mom: But you were supposed to turn left.
Dad turns left.
Mom: You were supposed to turn right.
Dad: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7. Because we are so close in age, and because we are both stubborn little cusses, Joon and I would always fight in the car. We would start with something trivial, and then work ourselves down to something VERY trivial.

For example, I hate it when people put their feet on me. Joon, knowing this, would plop her big stinky feet right up into my lap. I would push them off, and the yelling would commence. My mom, eventually, started putting the cooler between us in the back seat; it was the equivalent of drawing a line separating the two sides of a bedroom (which we also did). Now that we couldn't torture each other with physical contact, our arguments would start with the classic, "She's looking at me!" and would devolve into that game where you repeat everything your opponent says.

Joon: Mom, Mei's looking at me!
Mei: Mom, Mei's looking at me!
Joon: Stop it!
Mei: Stop it!
Joon: Mooooooooooom!
Mei: Mooooooooooom!
Joon: Stop copying me!
Mei: Stop copying me!

And then we would both get in trouble, and our dad would say, "Don't make me turn this car around!" and we would sulk and stick out our tongues at each other until we both went to sleep. Or until Joon threw up.

8. I didn't realize it at the time, but going on family vacations was a luxury; a lot of kids didn't have parents who would take a week or two off from work JUST TO SPEND TIME WITH THEM. I have tons of stories about the places I've been and what happened on the trip, and sometimes people are amazed at the amount of time my family spent together. A lot of our vacations were low-tech, and we didn't have a lot of money to throw around so we had to make our own fun. We never flew on any of our trips, so we were trapped in the car for hours on end; we HAD to talk to each other, or agree on what music to listen to, or play the license plate game.

And that's what I remember most about our vacations: we BONDED on those trips. Even when we were yelling or copying or reading or getting lost, we were enjoying ourselves, and enjoying each other.


Cindy said...

Mei, I hope you have a wonderful time in Chicago! It's one of my favorite cities in the world, but then again, I love big cities.

Chicago is about an hour and half from where I live, and we've been trying to take advantage of living so close to such an awesome place. Have a blast...and be sure and have some real Chicago-style pizza and some Garrett's Popcorn.

KLG said...

Your family vacations remind me of my family vacations growing up- right down to the leaky tent and the sibling warfare that ensued in the car. Now that I have kids, we have taken quite a few treks from our home in central TX to Canada, when my father in law was living. We piled all 6 of us in our Chevy Van and drove straight through to Chicago, or Buffalo, or Philadelphia, or whatever was the friend or relative we were visiting first that year, and we always drove through the night so the kids couldn't quarrel as much. (I have 4 pretty close in age). In the past 4 years both my in-laws in Buffalo/Canada have died, and the kids are all teenagers now and can't get along for a trip across town, much less across the country, so we don't do that anymore, but I can tell that they do miss those vacations some. My 14 year old daughter recently was lamenting that we weren't going on a family vacation this year, so at least one of them has some good memories of the experience. --Kathy

Mei said...

Thanks, Cindy, I DID have a great time!

I didn't have either the pizza or the popcorn. I guess I will just have to go back then. It will require a huge sacrifice, but ... I'll just have to force myself.

Kathy, I cannot imagine taking a trip with four kids! Even to the grocery store! Maybe you could sneak them some Dramamine? (ha ha)


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