I am completely spoiled. In a couple of weeks, we will throw our swimsuits and a few extra clothes in a suitcase and fly off to northern Michigan for a family reunion. Frankfort is a small beach town that sits on the shore of Lake Michigan about an hour from Traverse City. Summers there are hot, usually dry, and pretty much blissful. This will be our family’s fourth time to venture there to reunite with my husband’s family.
Family time can be tricky. Being in neutral (and beautiful) territory makes it as good as it gets. The folks splurge for a suite for each family; we cook a little, eat out some, and trek down to the 4-block downtown stretch to get donuts whenever we feel like it. With hours of instant beach entertainment for any age, it is hard to go wrong. Just in case it rains, there is an inside swimming pool. It is luxury and this is why I say I am spoiled.
When my “family of origin” (as I called them in graduate school) took vacations, it meant packing up the camper and heading for some obscure camp ground in Idaho or Montana. It was always quite the exciting ordeal. Now that I am a mom, I have awe at how hard my mother worked to make it happen.
In addition to cleaning out the camper that had sat dormant all year, she cooked up a storm. Puffy golden raisin cookies, lemon jello cake, and always something chocolate. She stuffed those tiny wooden cupboards with pasta, hamburger helper, pancake mix, crackers, chips, plastic-covered american cheese slices, and a few veggies. She froze chunks of meat and put it in the ice box with frozen milk cartons substituted with water. We only had to stop for food occasionally – and we could have as much Pop Shoppe pop as we wanted.
We had some great adventures in that big orange truck and camper. I remember being fascinated with snails when we did a trip to the Oregon Coast. Sadly, our first pet snail escaped in the camper and we never found it. And there was the sparkling micah in Montana’s Garnet Creek. There was also the plastic back scratcher I brought back as a souvenir from Glacier National Park. These are some of my best family memories. To this day, I can see my dad sitting out side with a CENEX hat on, rain dripping off the brim while he stoked a smoldering fire.
These were really important times for me to get a sense of family. We weren’t the kind of family that had a ton of fun together (at least I didn’t think so.) But, we were really good at just being with each other watching tv or eating dinner. When we went camping, something was suspended between us. Sure, there was the predictable sibling bickering, but there was something in the creating of fires, sleeping all crammed into a camper, and carrying sloshing buckets of water to wash dishes in that must have helped me feel bonded to them. Then again, maybe it was just all of those kerosene fumes.
Whatever it was, it cemented to me the importance of having times away together. I hope you are creating similar memories with your family, whether it is around a camp fire, sitting by a pool, or having a picnic together.
Today is the longest day of the year. More possible moments of meaning-making with those that matter to you most. Make yourself happy – plan something!