Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On How I Spent My Summer Vacation

As a school-based employee, I am afforded the luxury of having an extended break from work during the summer months. Yes, I do work a couple days a week most weeks, but in general I am able to take the time off and really enjoy the summer months. My wife was a teacher, so it was a double blessing for us to be able to spend this time together when we were first married and throughout our marriage. Many of our vacations were spent with family, either visiting them or entertaining them in our home, but occasionally we branched out a bit from our normal vacation routine.

Four years ago was one such time. My stepdad turned sixty that summer and my mom planned a surprise trip with out entire family, which was no easy task considering there were thirteen of us at the time and we lived in three separate states. However, being the expert planner she is, she/we were able to pull off the surprise. We actually rented a beach house about half an hour from where I live, which made the surprise part all that much easier (we incorporated the week into part of their annual summer trek to our house). My wife and I enjoyed being able to play a small part in the surprise, and it was our best vacation as an entire family.

It was also our last vacation as an entire family.

At the time, my wife was starting to show signs of her illness becoming worse, but she was under the best care we could find and the doctors had given her clearance to lead as normal a life as she cared to. The month after our beach trip we spent our five year wedding anniversary in New York, a city she had never visited, but had always wanted to. Seven months later, she was gone.

This summer my mom also had a milestone birthday (though with respect to the lady, I will not mention just which milestone it was). My sister and I had previously discussed doing a trip for Mom’s next milestone birthday when we were all at the beach four years ago, but none of us knew what would happen in the intervening months and years. Last fall we decided to start looking for a place to vacation anyway. My only request was that we did not do it here again, as I thought it might be too painful to duplicate that atmosphere with all of the same players. Minus one.

Our original plan was to head to the Gulf Coast. She had a friend in Alabama who could get us a good deal on a rental, so we set the plan into motion. Then my older brother announced that (for reasons I cannot go into here) they would not be joining us. That dropped our number to ten. Then the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill happened. (On a side note, I am amazed at the number of times I heard about the poor pelicans and possibility of oil stained beaches in comparison to the number of times I heard about the people who were killed and the families they left behind). So we decided to move our trip elsewhere, preferably as far away from the possible effects of trace oil and tar balls as possible.

So in mid-June, we set off toward Maine. I had never traveled to the New England states (well, not any further than Stamford, CT at that point), so we took a couple of extra days to get there. It turns out a lot of that time was spent stuck in traffic and driving around certain cities looking for the way back to the interstate. My parents traveled with us, so that was an added bonus and we had an enjoyable time. We finally arrived in Maine on Saturday afternoon and my sister met us with her family a few hours later. By this time, my younger brother had also backed out of the trip (for reasons that were at least a bit more valid than my other brother’s, but frustrating nonetheless), so there were only eight of us who spent the week together in our rented house. We were about a five minute walk from the beach, which was magnificent, but so very different from the beaches I have grown accustomed to here in the Southeast. I’m not much of a shutterbug, but I took several hundred pictures during our week-long stay. (Check out my Facebook page for a larger selection than what I’ve posted here).

I have to say that New England was everything I thought it would be. From the many quaint towns we visited, to the rock outcroppings along certain highways and the entire coastline, it was simply magnificent. There were so many places we were unable to travel to (Gloucester and Rockport, MA for one) that I am most assuredly going to have to travel that way again sometime. We did manage to spend a day in Boston hiking the Freedom Trail, which took us throughout the city and allowed us to see many famous sites that were important in the Revolutionary War (check out photos of that on my Facebook page as well) and an afternoon at the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, ME (yep, more pictures of that on Facebook too).

I cannot say enough what an amazing time it was. Family has always been very important to me and I cherish whatever time I am able to spend with my loved ones. I was worried that this trip would have an adverse effect on me, even though the location was so very different from our last family beach trip. I cannot say that the effect was adverse, but there were many times when my grief was much closer to the surface than I am used to it being these days. One afternoon in particular I remember being in my room at the rented house and just sorely missing her. It seems a bit silly, knowing that she’s in Heaven, but in those moments, I just really wanted her to share Maine with me.

The day after we returned from Maine, Bible school started, so I busied myself with lesson-planning and skit practice for my role as a ranch-hand who couldn’t sing on-key. My parents left and her parents arrived. We spent a few days with them, including some time at the beach and watching fireworks over the water on the Fourth of July, before heading to another place I had never visited (though this one was a much closer than Maine!)

Charleston, South Carolina is another place that did not disappoint. We only stayed a couple of days, but we packed a lot in. The first day was spent at a rice plantation, where we learned about the local wildlife (including alligators!), the way plantations were run, and the importance of the slaves who lived and worked there (not only for their labor, but also for their knowledge). In an interesting twist, we learned that following a major hurricane in South Carolina many years ago, logs from that particular plantation were sent to Boston and used to restore the USS Constitution, which my daughter and I had just seen less than two weeks earlier.

We spent that evening downtown viewing the slave market (which we were told was used by the slaves to do their trading and not used for the actual selling of slaves), eating, and taking an informational carriage tour around the historic areas of the city. The next morning we took the boat to Ft. Sumter and toured the area where the Civil War officially began. It was amazing to be able to see sites from both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in a two week time period (yes, yes, those pictures are on Facebook as well).

The trip to Charleston was bittersweet for me. We moved to the Southeast less than a year after we got married, so I got it in my head that I would surprise my wife with a first anniversary getaway and Charleston was a feasible place to do so. Plus it was on her list of places she had always wanted to go. I wish I could say that we went and had a great time, but it was not so. As I was getting ready to set up the details for the trip I realized that I had made an error and left the cost of the moving van out of our checkbook. We were juggling two checking accounts at the time, waiting for things to clear so we could close the one back home, and it was a complete oversight on my part (which was incredibly hard because I am overly cautious about finances and it ended up ruining our chances to take the trip). She was disappointed, but understanding when I told her what had happened and that I had planned to surprise her with the trip. By the next summer our daughter was on the way and we just never seemed to find the time or the money to see Charleston together after that.

My in-laws left the day after we returned from Charleston and some friends arrived two days after that. We spent a lot of time visiting local places (within a two hour radius anyway), but I unfortunately do not have pictures to accompany those travels. It was, however, very nice to be able to enjoy and appreciate some of the areas that are very close-to-home. The two weeks following that brought my neighbor’s sister and her daughter from out of state (think blueberry patch from my previous post), so we spent a lot more time around home during those weeks.

The final few weeks of the summer were spent in various states in the Midwest visiting and traveling with family. We managed to work in five days with each family, plus travel time and a side-trip of our own. In that time with family we: saw an exhibition of big-wheeled bicycles, went to a small zoo, celebrated my in-laws’ fortieth wedding anniversary (my parents celebrated their twentieth earlier this summer as well, but we were not able to be with them then), took my daughter to see her first of the Great Lakes (which she enjoyed, but promptly reminded her grandmother that it was nothing like the ocean), attended a minor league baseball game, visited friends in their home, celebrated my Mom’s actual milestone birthday (trip was planned earlier in the summer due to the likelihood of higher temperatures in our initial location in August), helped my parents with an outdoor project, visited with friends in my parents’ home, met some new people and pets, and had an all-around enjoyable time (I know, I know - quit selling the Facebook page already!).

On the way home last week, my daughter and I took a detour and went to a new zoo. It has become a tradition of sorts for us to visit a new zoo each summer. We usually take this trip by ourselves, but last summer we had the pleasure of incorporating it into a trip we were on with my parents. The zoo we went to was nice, though the exhibits were a bit overgrown, so it was hard to see some of the animals. We enjoyed our daddy-daughter time together immensely though, especially since it was our last big hurrah before school starts tomorrow.

All in all, we set foot in twenty different states this summer. Six of these were new for me, which brought my overall states visited count up to thirty. Eleven were new for my daughter, which brought her overall count to twenty-five (and she’s only six!) We spent more time away from home than we did at home, which is unusual for us. And we had an excellent summer, but for one thing:

Every memory made and experience shared is another one without her.


  1. the photos and your talk of being in Maine, wanting someday to visit Gloucester and Rockport, made my eyes mist. memories of when i was happy. it is so exciting to read of others' travels. you are giving your daughter such a gift by going to all these places and nurturing your relationships with your entire family and your friends. all this will feed into her soul and the whole world will always be a place of wonder and magic for her. i know your wife is so very proud of her and happy you can give this kind of life to her.

    i also realize the poignancy in which these travels occur for you; the mirage in the brain so to speak. i am glad you had an excellent summer and i pray for the both of you to always be content and have peace.

  2. Hello stranger, thank you for sharing these beautiful beautiful photos. They are how I imagine New England to look. One day I will visit in the Fall.

    It was an inspiring post for me and it gave me hope in my heart to read that you had had a good summer. Wishing you light and love,
    Boo x

  3. I stumbled across your blog and was surprised to see the lighthouse in York, ME. I live in NH but a short distance from York and go there often for long walks. I can relate to having new experiences/going new places but carrying a deep sadness and missing your spouse. Peace to you and your daughter always.

  4. WNS - Thank you for your words of affirmation. I hesitated to even write this post, but am glad I did now. I wasn't sure people would really want to hear that I've had a good summer and that it's possible to do so even as a widower. My wife also loved to travel, so my daughter got a double-dose of it. It's a big part of the reason travel has a place in my budget.

    Boo - It's so good to hear from you. I have been enjoying reading you again after your six month hiatus! I hope that you do get to New Englad soon. It is beautiful and must be magnificent in the fall (I'm sure our mutual friend knows this better than I do!) Maybe after Bulgaria you can fit in another trip to the States...

    Robin - Thank you for commenting. I am sorry you have to share this widowed journey as well. I absolutely loved Maine (and NH's coastline is beautiful too. We spent a bit of time driving along Hwy 1 on our way to York.) You are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place.

  5. I loved this post so much I did click on the facebook page.
    We are off to one of our favourite holiday palces in the next school holidays ... not too sure how we'll all go without G there to build ginormous sandcastles and ride along bike tracks with teh kids for hours on end....
    (I'm a teacher and get those loooong breaks too ... which aren't so great when you are grieving as I'm discovering).

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  8. Hi again, just dropping by so you know I was thinking of you. I miss your posts, but respect your absence especially if that is what works for you right now. Light and love xx