Monday, July 6, 2009

How I (Mis)Spent My Summer Vacation

The theme of the 76th Carnival of Genealogy is our favorite summer vacation memory from our youth. I’m sure I had one. I have several enjoyable summer vacation memories from recent years. And there are some vacations from my childhood that were memorable … sort of. We went to Disneyland, we went to Knotts’ Berry Farm, we went to Calico Ghost Town. But wait … did these outings actually take place during the summer? There is nothing in my memory to make that specific connection.

As I tried to recall specific vacations, I had an “Aha!” moment as I remembered one trip that I thought would be an ideal subject: Our trip to Death Valley. You see, my father loved to visit desolate places, deserts in particular. And while I could entertain myself in these locales by hunting for rocks and interesting wildlife, I hated the emptiness of the vast open spaces, the heat, and the lack of vegetation and shade. I will always associate those trips with endless rides down dusty roads in under-ventilated cars, lukewarm water to drink, and boredom without end. So the trip to Death Valley seemed like the perfect subject to capture this grueling and unpleasant ritual of my childhood. There was only one problem: I realized that only insane people would visit Death Valley in the summer. I was not certain onto which side of the sanity/insanity division my father fell in this matter, however, so I devised a way to check; I would look at our Death Valley vacation photos. And sure enough, we were wearing long pants and jackets in those photos. Scrap that idea.

Note: This picture is NOT from a summer vacation.

Again I went over all my favorite trips and vacations from childhood. That memorable trip to visit Grandma Brinlee in Texas? Christmas vacation. Hiking up around Big Bear Lake? Thanksgiving vacation. Trip to Tijuana? Spring vacation.

I was striking out on summer vacation. All I could remember was a series of minor beach and fishing outings that all merged together into a single confusing stew of impressions. At the beach: hot sand, sunburns, freezing cold water, slimy things under foot, sand in my bathing suit. If it was a good beach, there would be interesting shells, and maybe sand castles would be good for an hour or two of entertainment. Fishing: more heat, freezing water, smelly fish, and cramped quarters on someone’s boat. Fishing from the shore was better: there might be interesting rocks or animals there.

Not seeing much promise in this material, I moved forward in time, bringing me to middle school, when times were really difficult for my family, and then to high school, when my mother and I lived in public housing in Seymour, Texas and could not afford vacations. And it was remembering those high school years that brought me back to one of the most enjoyable summers I have ever spent. My mother and I did not go anywhere. I did not have a summer job or pursue any useful “enrichment activities.” I stayed at home, slept in, and decided each morning what I would do to entertain myself that day.

My friends Debbie and Donna would come to town and we would hang out. We would cruise around town, sometimes stopping at the Dairy Queen (or was it the Dairy Mart?) for cherry Cokes, tater tots, frito pies, and other delicious treats, or we might instead go to the Rock Inn, where we could chow down on taco salad (on a large bed of shredded lettuce to absorb the grease – no, really, it was delicious) or chicken-fried steak. We might go to Debbie’s house on the farm and make our own feast: pizza from a box mix (there were no pizza parlors in Seymour then) with the topping of choice being olives, plus potato chips and Dr. Pepper, drink of the gods. The ice that went into the Dr. Pepper was brownish and cloudy, as the water was drawn from a well. Debbie and Donna tried to teach me how to drive, but it didn’t take. I think I really scared them with that fast turn into Debbie’s driveway. (Oh, you mean I need to brake when I turn?)

We would hit the Seymour Library once or twice a week, doing our best to exhaust its possibilities. I read War and Peace (saw the Sergey Bondarchuk movie version when I was in ninth grade and lived with Uncle Howard and Aunt Joy, and I simply had to read the book), The Forsyte Saga (had caught it on TV while at Hardin-Simmons the previous summer; our part of Texas did not have PBS), and together Debbie and I went through as many detective books as we could find. We daydreamed a lot and planned out “Life After Seymour.”

It was the last summer I ever spent during which I was not either studying or working. And it was wonderful.


  1. Count me in that insane group that visit Death Valley in summer. It was probably the first week of June right after my high school graduation. I vacationed in S. California with a friend's family and we drove through but never stopped. At 55 mph and all the windows down it was HOT. Not an experience I care to repeat.

  2. I've never been to Death Valley, but the summer you described sounds heavenly. I now look forward to sleeping in and having a day to myself...but it doesn't happen too often. Time spent with friends and/or family is always the best. Great post as always, Greta.

  3. A great Summer memory, Greta!

    My Summers in Boston were a bit like that, and then we moved to the
    suburbs, where most of my Summers revolved around yardwork. Sigh!