For my siblings and I, summer vacation almost always meant a road trip up to Wyoming to visit relatives. My parents grew up in the same small valley, but after they married they settled in California far away from snowy winters. Every summer, we’d cram five kids in the backseat of an old car without air conditioning and spend the day driving north through the desert. As we drove over the mountain pass into the valley, my parents would always stop and usher us out of the car to take a picture at the scenic viewpoint. After a few minutes breathing the clear mountain air, always a relief after hours of sweaty desert heat, we’d jam ourselves back in for the last twenty minutes of the trip. You can spot my grandma’s house from the highway—it’s the small white house nestled under several large pine trees, next to the big red barn with a W on it. I think at least some of my love for my grandmother’s house is that arriving there always came at the end of an epic journey.
As a child, and especially as a teenager, I didn’t always like our family vacations. Why did we have to go to the same place every year and see the same people, most of whom I didn’t know very well or get along with? Every trip to Wyoming included a few days of driving around town visiting various relatives and friends; we children would wander through their homes trying to amuse ourselves while the adults spent hours reminiscing about people we didn’t know at all. After visiting the living friends and family, we’d make at least one stop at the cemetery too. There were fun times at the county fair, horseback riding, tasty family dinners, hiking, and plenty of other fun things to fill the time. Despite all that, sometimes I wanted to be like my friend’s family and go somewhere just to see the sights and to relax in a hotel with a swimming pool and room service. Now, however, I find myself nostalgic for Wyoming, despite never having lived there as a child. I miss the warm smell of alfalfa in the sun, with the sharp tang of manure underlying it. I miss the rolling green hills that line the valley and the soft shushing sound of sprinklers irrigating the fields. My grandmother passed away several years ago and her house has been remodeled from Pennsylvania commercial contractors, and while I know that this was inevitable, part of me mourns the fact that my children won’t know what it is like to use the bathroom with blue carpet (and matching blue toilet paper), drink a glass of cold mountain water from the tin cup by the sink, and curl up on a stiff sofa with Reader’s Digest and Time to keep them company.
My parents now live in Las Vegas and we go down to visit them a few times a year. I have no particular attachment to their house or to the town itself, since I didn’t grow up there, but my kids love their grandparent’s house. We’re driving down today to spend a week with them, and my kids have spent the last few months excitedly planning their trip. They will visit the Shark Reef, spend hours in the swimming pool, play guitars and piano, build with ‘classic’ Lego saved from my brothers—they have their own traditions and are building their own memories with their grandma and grandpa. These transitions from child to adult and parent to grandparent are subtle; sometimes I am caught short by the realization that my children will have similar memories about me that I have about my parents. Despite the fact that my oldest is nearly 11, I still have a hard time believing that I’m the mom some days. It’s even harder to believe that my parents are now grandparents.
Sandra’s essay in the most recent issue of the journal has made me think about how I can preserve my memories of my grandmother, her house, and her life. Like Sandra, I grew up far away from my grandmother and I am only one in a large number of grandchildren, some of whom knew her much more intimately than I did. However, she is a major part of who I am and who my kids are. Even though my children can never physically visit her or her home, hopefully they can learn about her through the recipes and stories I can share that belong to her. At the same time, they are building their own memories for a new generation. That kind of family connection is worth making the drive.
How did you spend your vacation time when you were a child? Did you visit relatives, go sightseeing, or relax at the beach? What do you do to preserve your family memories?