As summer approaches and families plan their summer vacations, I remember the ones my family took.
When my father took his two weeks off, we would all pile into the family car and head east or west — usually west.
We left the humidity and the routine of summer in Wisconsin (bike riding and jumping into the public pool) and hit the road, with games, toys and comic books to keep us kids busy. As we sped along the highway, our greatest hope was that we would stay at a motel with a swimming pool.
As my parents showed us the beauty of America — the Black Hills, the Canadian Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado — my brother and I fought in the back seat, read comic books and played with toys. And we hit each other a lot.
“Oh, look, children,” my mother would exclaim at the presidents’ heads carved into Mount Rushmore.
At the time, we were more interested in the sandwiches we hoped to eat at the restaurant down the road.
We did like going to Wahl Drug Store and riding the stationary bucking bronco.
Now, as an adult, I remember those times as some of the most precious of my childhood.
When my brother and I got older, my sister (who is 10 years older than I) graduated from college with a teaching credential and took a job in Riverside, Calif.
That year, in December, when the snow was on the ground and the temperature dipped to 30 degrees below zero, we took an airplane and spent Christmas with her.
We were shocked that people did not have to live where the weather rules your life all winter long.
We left the freezing cold and three feet of show on the ground in Milwaukee. When we got to Riverside, we were welcomed by a blast of warm air.
My sister lived in an apartment she shared with two girlfriends.
Outside the apartment, there was a grove of orange trees and warm weather.
We reveled in being able to go outside without jackets. There were things we’d never seen in Wisconsin, like sliding glass doors that led out to a patio. In Wisconsin, the homes are geared toward winter. A wall of windows would let in too much cold air.
Later, my sister moved to San Francisco, and we visited her there too — riding cable cars, visiting Chinatown and the wharf, eating sourdough bread and enjoying the weather — though not as warm as Riverside’s, it still was better than those Wisconsin winters. My brother and I, older now, didn’t fight during these trips.
My sister stayed in California. She got married and had two children.
In the summers, they took off too, driving to Wisconsin to visit my parents (my sister did not take them there in the winter) or to Washington state where my brother-in-law grew up.
In Washington, there were lots of sites to see, from Seattle to Mount Rainier where they went hiking and camping, most often in the pouring rain. One summer, I joined them. We saw some sun the first day, and grey skies and rain the rest of the time. After spending several days in tents in the driving rain, we tossed the wet tents in the back of the car and went to town to the laudromat and a restaurant. It was not the vacation we had planned, but, now that my niece and nephew are grown up, these summer vacations are what they remember, with great fondness, of their childhoods.
The moral of the story: when you take your kids on vacation, don’t be discouraged if their main interest seems to be the fast food restaurant down the road or complaining about each other or the weather. Believe me, they’ll remember those sites and places — and the family togetherness — they seem not to appreciate now.