Saturday, September 3, 2011

Raise Your Glass

                     It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
- Chinese proverb

When my extended family went to the beach this summer, we thought a lot about Dad.  He was missed every minute of every day, just like he is all the time.  He would've loved being there with us and we would've loved for him to have been there, too, but, in his honor, we all worked hard to appreciate what we had at that point in time instead of dwelling on what we wished we had. 

At one point on the trip, we clinked our glasses together in tribute to him.  As much as we loved and appreciated him and valued the time that we had with him over the years, I couldn’t remember ever having toasted him while he was alive, and that made me almost as sad as his not being there did.

I vowed to myself that I will not make that mistake again; I will make a point to make a toast to people I love in their presence.  I want to be sure they know that they are important to me, that I value the time I have with them, and that they have made an impact on me.  I want to raise my glass in honor of people, not just in memory of them. 

                                   This is kind of a weird version of this song, but I like it anyway.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Road Trips

 My parents took my sisters and me on lots of road trips when we were growing up.  Both sets of our grandparents and the rest of our extended family lived in states other than where we lived, and it seemed like we piled into the station wagon and hit the road fairly often.

Like lots of families during that time period, we traveled on a pretty low budget.  We packed a cooler and a bag with things like colored pencils and paper and a deck of cards, and we were good to go.

We took lots of camping trips, did a good bit of sightseeing and touring, went to Disneyworld and several water parks, and made it to the beach on several occasions.  All of that blurs together as Good Time Family Fun in my Memory Bank.  There were, however, a few specific events during my childhood involving family road trips that I remember as standing out the most, things we did while traveling as a family that I think about again and again, memories that always bring a smile to my face.  I’m not even sure of the exact timeline of these.  All three happened as part of the travel my family was doing - they were side-shows, far removed from the main event; they were spontaneous; and they were unforgettable.

We lived in Albert Lea, Minnesota, when I was in kindergarten.  I loved that house for lots of reasons; I learned to ride a bike without training wheels in the front yard there, my younger sister came home from the hospital as a newborn to that house, and it had a cool laundry chute that went from the second floor to the laundry room in the basement.

One day, our parents were packing the car before we embarked on another road trip, and my sisters and I were in the den gathering up a few books and toys to take with us.  The TV show that was on came to an end, and the next thing that came on was a movie: “The Wizard of Oz.”  I had never seen it before, and I was mesmerized from the start by the tornado scene, the characters, the way it went from black-and-white to color, and the music.

About 30 minutes into the show, my parents completed their last-minute preparations for the trip.  I’m sure they were ahead of schedule for the time they had planned to depart on the trip; my dad hated to be late and went to great effort to make sure our family was on time wherever we went.  He came into the den and started his battle cry of “Load up!  Time to go!” but then saw us sitting on the floor, as he termed it, “glued to the TV.”  When he realized what we were watching, he and Mom sat on the couch behind us, and we watched the rest of the movie together, with Dad singing along to every song in the movie: from “We’re Off to See the Wizard” to “The Merry Old Land of Oz” and “If I Were King of the Forest.”  The movie and the music were great, and I’ll never forget how time seemed to stand still as my family sat there in the den that day, entranced, entertained, and together.

A few years after that, my family had moved to another state, and we were in the car again on a road trip.  I don’t remember where we started or where we ended up, but I do remember the best part of that trip:  Dad was driving along the highway while the rest of us looked out the window.  I don’t know who saw the little carnival in the hillside first, but I do remember the moment when all of had it seen it.  My sisters and I oohed and aahed at the Ferris wheel and the other rides we saw.  It looked like fun, but we were On the Road and On a Schedule.  Probably no one in the world was more surprised than we were at that exact moment in time when, without a word, Dad pulled onto the two-lane road at the foot of the hillside and started driving towards the carnival.  I remember thinking I was dreaming.  He pulled into the gravel parking lot, parked the car, and said, “Who’s up for some rides?”  Better than Christmas!

 When I was a pre-teen and even into my high school years, my family celebrated New Year’s Eve by staying overnight in a Holidome about 100 miles from where we lived.  My sisters and I each got to invite a friend, and, once we got to there, our parents pretty much unleashed us in the open space inside the hotel.  We ran in the halls, jumped on the beds, rode up and down the elevators, went into the sauna room, ordered room service, watched music videos on MTV (which we weren’t allowed to have at home), and swam in the indoor pool.  Just enough freedom, lots of fun, excellent people-watching (one year we watched a woman swim laps in the pool for hours in a shower cap) – it was perfect.

I’m not sure if there is a specific lesson from or a point to looking back at memories like these, other than just remembering and thinking about how much fun we had together as a family.  Maybe there’s a little bit of a “Take time to smell the roses” lesson in there, and that we certainly did.  We definitely appreciated each opportunity, each day, and each other along the way, and for that, as well as the memories that time will not allow us to forget, I will be forever grateful.

I remember riding in the backseat of the car with my sisters, barreling
down the highway on family trips, listening to Dad sing this song.