Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Get-a-Way That Got Away

I have been on a lot of family vacations while growing up. Most of them were trips to Minnesota to see my mom's family or to Ohio to see my dad's family. But now and then we would travel elsewhere to New England, Tennessee, or Michigan. We never went to Disney World, or California, or Mount Rushmore. We never really did do the "grand adventure" type vacations. But that never bothered me too much, because what we did do, we made the most of it.

There have been many insanely wonderful times throughout those trips. Most of them would probably be mundane, in fact boring, to people outside of our family. But for some reason, those subtle, simple (trivial you might say) memories are my favorite. Usually they are moments of complete and utter silliness. If you don't know my family, then you don't know just how very silly we all are, especially when we are together. There is a certain ease when we are all together . . . the way in which a child easily fits into the crevice between the side of your body and your arm. We enjoy each other. Don't get me wrong; we're not the Brady Bunch! We don't neatly wrap up the problem of a broken vase or broken nose within 30 minutes and all have a group hug at the end. We're normal. We have our dysfunctions as does any other family. But we love being together -- something I truly cherish.

Although, I must admit we weren't always at the height of our enjoyment in each other's company while on all of our vacations. There were times when I would jab my elbows (they were extremely pointy back then) into any available flesh of my brothers to cease their taunting. There were times when Dad, exasperated with our indecision, would say, "I'm just the chauffer!" And there were also times when my brothers groaned with disaproval at the music choice of my parents. I suppose they just weren't as enlightened as me and could not absorb the beauty of the soundtracks from "Somewhere in Time" and "Out of Africa." ;)

And all of these memories, though frustrating at the time, are precisely the same, warming tales we love to retell around the dining room table. I can't think of any vacation that amplifies this phenomenon better than our most beloved trip to Southern Indiana. It was the summer of 1992. I believe it was August because the Summer Olympics were on at the time. I remember this because I was forced to inhale my Olympic fix and listen to Bob Costas through the fuzzy, black-and-white, 5-inch screen, on our mini-TV that we brought so as to not go into a TV withdrawal coma. My brother, Jeff had just graduated high shool and I had finished up my year in fifth grade.

My parents had found out about a minister's retreat in Southern Indiana, somewhere nearby Spring Mill State Park. I don't remember exactly where this place was, for the simple fact that it was in the middle of NOWHERE! We didn't know this at the time. We knew it was out in the woods -- not within any city limits. But we had no idea . . . The whole time while we drove down to the retreat, with me sitting in the back, right corner of the van in my hot-pink beanbag, surrounded by suitcases, coolers, and duffle bags, I was imagining what our "home" would look like for the next two weeks. I pictured a quaint, white country cottage, sitting on top of a small hill, overlooking a pond or two. I was excited. I had everything that I needed -- my Sony Walkman, coloring books, Travel Spirograph, and oodles upon oodles of paper, crayons, and markers. This trip was going to be amazing.

As we neared our hotspot destination, traveling down the final road that ran alongside a small river, we passed by lots of trees, and only a few random houses. I began to get a tad concerned when passing by those homes. They were, shall we say, a bit "Deliverance-ish." Old cars without tires, decrepit and retired Lazy-Boys, and a smattering of tools adorned the "yards." There weren't really any "yards" there; they were more like mudscapes. And one house that we passed had a good, old-fashioned outhouse in their mudscape. While that was not particularly alarming, the message painted on the side of it was: "The Can." Just in case someone wasn't sure. :) A few of the inhabitants of these homes happened to be out in their mudscapes as we passed along. Each of them stood, very still, and watched from the first point of sight until we were out of their vision. Had they never seen cars before? Or just cars that still worked?

I began to have a brooding feeling . . . what were we getting ourselves into? I was right about one thing: the house did sit on top of a hill. Small though, it was not. Dad turned our Astro Van left, onto the narrow, gravel path that meandered up the steep hill. On the right side -- the hill and trees. On the left side -- about a foot of ground and then . . . nothing. It dropped off almost at an eighty degree angle. I was definitely glad to be sitting on the right side of the van on that particular occasion.

After a couple intense minutes we found ourselves in the middle of a farm, cows and everything. It was a small, white farmhouse and barn, nestled in an opening, with trees surrounding it on all sides. Well, not quite what I had pictured. I tried, however, to reserve my judgment at least until we had explored the depths of the house. As we got out of the van our dog, Fluffy (a Peek-a-poo) saw the cows and bolted toward them with reckless abandon. She sprung around them, barking some kind of doggly obscenities and decided to take on the bull. Mind you, this dog was about as high as my mid-to-upper calf. I had never seen such aggression from her. And she, apparently, had never seen a cow.

After much shouting and cajoling we finally were able to grab her and take her inside. The inside was pretty much what you would expect for a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. The rooms weren't terribly large, or terribly small. There were two bedrooms, with a bathroom adjoining them. There was a nice, large screened-in porch, extending from the living room, which had walls of a sort of jade green. It was quite cozy. Nothing fancy, but still nice.

However . . . the first day and night there we were without running water. The owner of the retreat, Roy Lee, had to come and give us a few buckets of water to tide us over until it was fixed. Hmmm, no TV, no phone, no water . . . are you sure you want to call this a retreat?

I spent much of that first week playing with my Travel Spirograph, which uses Post-it-Notes, instead of full sheets of paper. My brother, Jeff, his girlfriend, and I decided to deem one wall of the living room the Spirograph Art Gallery. We plastered our bedazzled Post-it-Notes neatly in rows along the wall. By the end of the second week I think we had nearly covered it. We also spent many hours doing Mad Libs (a favorite pastime of mine). I tell you, there's not much that can produce the laughs that Mad Libs can, especially when my family is doing them. We don't limit ourselves to a simple noun or verb. We add adjectives to everything!

On one particular evening we decided to talk about Unsolved Mysteries, alien abductions, and such. This discussion, of course, took place right before we all went to bed. I scuttled into the tiny bedroom and pulled every available inch of covers up to my face. The bed sat in the far corner, with the two large windows on either side of it. I began to visualize aliens silently landing their spacecraft into the nearby field, and watching me through the windows. I kept looking out the two windows, my head bobbing back and forth like a ping-pong ball. There would be little sleep tonight!

I'm not sure if the next day was when we went to peruse Spring Mill Park or not. But if so, it would then make sense why I was in such a foul mood! Normally I love this kind of stuff. I have always loved parks and historical sites. But on this day I think I was annoyed with the world. Must have been the pre-teen hormonal resurgence. I moped around, dragging my feet, and posed with my arms crossed in every photograph. After we were done, and ready to get something to eat, we attempted to find an agreeable decision . . . which we did not. We all wanted to eat somewhere different. Mom didn't care; she just wanted to find any place that we could agree on. Dad didn't care; he just wanted to know where in the world he was driving the car. After several minutes of sibling banter, Dad finally zoomed the van back into a parking space and said, "All right, that's it! I'm not doing anything else. I'm just a chauffer for the rest of the day!" Needless to say, we did no more that day. :)

The first week was spent with my parents, brother, Jeff, and his girlfriend. My oldest brother, Jeremy did not come until the beginning of the second week. The night before he was to come there was an incredible thunderstorm. I was not aware of it at first, as I was asleep. But as the intensity grew I awoke, startled and terrified. I shot out of bed and through the adjoining bathroom, straight into the other bedroom where my parents were and leapt into their bed. A few minutes later we heard the loudest crack of thunder of our lives. Mom jumped. I jumped. Even Dad jumped. There would be little sleep tonight!

The next day Jeremy was due to arrive. It was getting late and there was no sign of him. And this was before we all had cell phones. Plus, there wasn't even a phone in our farmhouse. Mom and Dad were getting quite worried. We discovered that because of the previous night's storm, there was much flooding in the area, including in our immediate vicinity. Jeremy did finally arrive safe and sound, but much later than planned. He had had to take many detours due to the flooding. What a welcome! I wondered if our "neighbors" had lost any of their mudscape ornaments.

As Jeremy began to get settled in, he was setting up his bed, which was on the porch. All of a sudden I heard a shout. I ran to the porch to see what was wrong and saw a small lizard running around with Dad and Jeremy trying to shoo it off the porch with a broom. I guess it had been communing with us unknowingly. We never saw it again.

I had seen very little of the cows also after that first greeting. One afteroon I went for a walk and wandered through some woods, into a clearing. I stopped there. I suddenly thought of the cows . . . and the bull. Where were they? What if they come around while I'm out here? And I looked down at my shirt, realizing it was bright red. I panicked . . . a bull . . . a red shirt . . . this can't be good. I started having terrible visions of the bull charging through the clearing, chasing me through the woods. I had run track before but I didn't have that much confidence in my racing skills, enough to outrun a bull. I turned around, back toward the house, and walked quite briskly, hoping that my red shirt would not alert any unwanted guests. Luckily, I made it back without coming across any creatures.

The next week we spent every evening playing games, especially Pit and Balderdash. Jeremy got so excited when he finally won a hand at Pit that he bounced off of his chair and ran into the kitchen to show Fluffy his winning hand. We all had a good laugh over that one. During Balderdash I channeled Hee Haw and turned ever word into a colloquial, southern term, such as "allo" for "all though."

This was by far, the most different of all our vacations. It may honestly be the closest thing we have had to a "grand adventure," though we did not know it at the time we signed up for it. We returned home, happy to have our modern conveniences back, but somehow missing our "Little House on the Prairie" get-a-way. It was probably one of our most frustrating trips . . . and one of the most memorable. Besides, the worst things usually make for the best stories. And we all love a good story . . .


  1. Thanks for the memories. I was laughing out loud this morning!

  2. The "I'm Just the Chauffeur" likes this and laughed at the silliness of that vacation.