From the Southwest to the Northeast

I have had a splendid summer of vacations. I have walked the Great Wall in four different regions of China. I have eaten cow tripe, scorpions and one unlucky starfish. I have hiked the Grand Canyon in the rain and watched shooting stars in the Arizona desert. But, the trip up North…I just didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to show pictures. I didn’t want to relive it. I didn’t ever want to go on another family vacation.

To say we fought during the trip would be an understatement. We started battling from the moment we got on the airplane until the moment we left Dad in Prince Edward Island. We squabbled about everything from who was driving or navigating to whether we should avoid overheating the tires by pumping the breaks or riding them down Mount Washington.

These battles are not unusual, just unusual in intensity. Since I can remember, our family trips have always revolved around my historian father’s penchant for battlefields, battleships and family vacation battle-readiness. Early in the trip, we all armed ourselves, ready for combat with each other. It was gloves off with individuals versus individuals, pairs against pairs or my favorite, three against one. My father disarmed his hearing aides so he didn’t have to hear the one-sided backseat skirmishes with my 187 lb. brother versus my 114 lb. frame. My mother had a romance novel, a healthy dose of sleeping pills, and a good pair of ear plugs to ignore my father’s driving inabilities that left those of us in the back gripping onto our seatbelts. My brother took captive of our recently-acquired Garmin, the only mechanism capable of giving my father a stress aneurism. In an early battle for directional supremacy, he tactically drove us in literal circles until we were too dizzy to steady our own internal compasses. I just put a pillow between Jordan and myself and cranked up my Ipod.

In addition to four strong-willed personalities clashing, it also seemed I was the only one not excited about the trip. Perhaps it was the perpetual jet-lag from this summer or that I hadn’t had any alone time since I left for China. Perhaps I was just in a bad mood. Two weeks with my family in Canada just didn’t seem as exciting next to my individual trips to China and California. But, my family was relishing the opportunity to get out of Daytona and see the Northern lights and sights. For them, it was less about the vacation and more about experiencing something historical. Mom couldn’t wait to drive up Mount Washington and visit Prince Edward Island. For her, it was returning to her family history. Dad couldn’t wait to see Boston’s USS Constitution or walk me through the sight of the Boston Massacre. For him, it was re-introducing his family to history. Even my sarcastic, teenage mutant brother was excited about our Canadian adventures. He couldn’t wait to have his first legal drink in Canada. For him, it was about living history.

While still in Prescott, I couldn’t wait for the free vacation, though I was starting to miss my own bed. Along with my other travel ailments this summer, I had caught the travel bug. It could only be cured with another passport stamp before I had to go back to school and a real-world job. A small jaunt to visit Anne of Green Gables, my favorite childhood book, also was added to my “can’t miss/can’t wait” list. However, once en route to Boston, I just wanted the trip to be history.

But, eventually I did talk about the trip. I did show family friends the pictures and I just bought tickets for our next family vacation this upcoming summer to Africa. So, why the big turn around? Hindsight.

If hindsight is 50/50 than I had fun 50% of the time and the other half was spent defending my backseat territory. I can’t say the trip wasn’t miserable, but I can’t say I didn’t have fun. I can say that now looking back, this trip wasn’t as bad as our family felt it was. I can say it was a learning experience. We had to relearn about each other. I had been gone for two months. My brother loves to lock himself in his room and both my parents work. We had become less of a family and more like strangers. Though we had a battle during the day or evening, we called truces every so often. It was during those truces when the true fun happened.

After living in smog-filled China and dry-heat Arizona, waking up on Day Two to a fog covered lake just melted away my reservations about a family trip. I woke up at 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise (of course I didn’t mean to, but I was still jet-lagged), which was complemented by the bacon and egg smell of a traditional American breakfast that I had craved so much while in China. Later during the day, I became the only one to lock herself in her room accidentally when I broke the door handle. After breaking open the nailed shut windows that would make a fire-code cry, I sat on the peaked roof just long enough to readjust to a non-hectic life. And of course, get help down.

After my readjustment, the days just flowed from there. We drove up Mount Washington on Day Three, fulfilling one of Mom’s must-dos. The road was narrow, the car’s breaks overheated, and the air was frigid and thin, but I touched a cloud. Although we could only see to our outstretched hands, I watched my mother smile and join me over a cup of hot chocolate. In the summertime, remember? Her smile faded on the way home as Jordan snatched the Garmin again. He typed in shortest distance home because he was growing antsy and cruising for a bruising from me. Not too far from home, the Garmin suddenly sent us down Rabbit Road, a thickly mud-caked path past civilization and into backwoods territory. With encouragement from the boys in back, Dad revved the rented Grand Marquis’ engine and drove the car through the sludge. Mud flew into the opened windows as the squeals of joy erupted. With each pit growing larger and multiplying and our anxiety about pushing the beast out of the mud growing, my father turned the car around 200 ft. from the exit. Amidst groans of disappointment from the boys and my mother’s sigh of relief, we traveled back down Rabbit Road with the only visible locals shaking their heads. We got back onto the main road, mud dripping from our axle, and followed Garmin’s new directions. Along the new road, we passed the Rabbit Road exit. It may have been seemingly shorter, but heck we were driving a beast and none of us wanted to push up the unforeseen hill.

Next, on Day Five, came ghost hunting with long lost cousins at a hidden burial site across from our family’s lake house in Maine. We took our canoes and man-powered across in the pouring rain. After an hour we hadn’t spotted any spooks, but we sure collected rain water in our boats and rain gear. Already wet, we jumped into the warm lake water and lounged on the floating dock until well after dark. It continued to rain even after we had dried off and started to drink our homemade hot chocolate. Again hot chocolate in the summertime!

On Day Seven, we visited Boston and climbed aboard the USS Constitution, saw where the colonists dumped tea off a boat and shunned Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sucks Sox play their version of baseball. But it was my walk with my father along the Freedom Trail that made my day. Dad and I had always bonded over history, but none more than my seventh grade history project on the Boston Massacre. After all these years, I still remember the victims’ names, order of their deaths, what happened and why they died. Although slightly morbid, it was a chance for me to talk with my father and test his historic knowledge. Picking up where we left off, he and I walked through rows of tombstones, looking at where John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin were buried. We took pictures of the joint burial plot of the Massacre victims. We even took a picture together on the spot where they were killed. Standing in Boston outside of the Old State House, it was my chance to again bond with my father.

Mom cried on Day Ten when we visited Campobello Island. In the early 1940s, my maternal grandparents escaped from war-torn England to this tiny island off of New Brunswick, Canada. My grandfather became the pastor of a little Baptist church on the island and my pregnant grandmother gave birth to the first of three Canadian born children, my mother not included. Mima and Papa died a few years back and my mother, the baby of the family, still misses them and craves the opportunity to walk in their footsteps whenever possible. Armed with a photograph and a basic location, we scouted out the church and parsonage where her family lived and worked. Along with the help of some locals, we found the church and even ran into a woman who was married by my grandfather. I don’t think this coincidence was on my mother’s “can’t miss” list, but walking with her through her parent’s footsteps sure made mine.

As the days continued and reached an end, I started to notice my family was on to something. Or at least on something. I took my brother to a local eatery for some Canadian cuisine and his first legal drink. I watched the Anne of Green Gables play with my mother and walked the cemeteries of Boston with my historian father. All of them had their own “can’t wait to see” items, and I couldn’t wait to be involved. Sure, we had plenty of fights, most of which were caused by the Garmin. But they became battles I was happy to lose. Or at least destined to lose because I was always outnumbered.

Whether it was looking for ghost in the woods with my cousins or walking slate-colored beaches in Maine listening to the waves crashing along with my brother’s commentary. Or walking downtown Prince Edward Island with Mom or morbidly scouting out historically-relevant spots with Dad. Throw in a few political epicenters and of course the ever-present Starbucks and it was an experience. Not an always enjoyable one, but nonetheless an experience. And just like history, it will never be forgotten.

Conclusion to my Blog

This was a summer to never been forgotten. I have written seven journal entries over ten weeks of travel: five weeks in ancient China, three weeks in arid Arizona and two weeks on the beautiful Northeast Coast. That is three countries and eight states with two new passport stamps. I lived in fifteen different beds of all sizes and comfort, but only spent four days in my own bed. I had seven different cases of medical ailments and a $705 phone bill from China. But, I have had experiences and memories that are priceless.

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