I still remember the stuffiness of the room, the creaking plank wood floors and light streaming through freshly washed windows making aberrations out of airborne dust particles. I remember most the groans and shifting weight on chairs as the teacher’s pronounced our first assignment of the year. The dreaded essay titled “What I did on my summer vacation.” The bell rang, chairs scraped against the floor and 27 pairs of feet scuffled communally toward the door.
What should I write about that every other kid wouldn’t? Our summers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were like cookie cutters of each other. Should I write about the time 17 of us were walking the three miles to the ice cream shop? One girl friend and I stayed on the road to flag down a non-suspecting car while the other 15 hid in the woods. When the car stopped we asked if another friend could have a ride too. “Sure,” he said. And with that we motioned 15 riders to join us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car drive away so fast.
Should I write about the many walks to the Rock Crusher that got its name years before from the straight up formation left behind when a road was blasted through rock? How many names were carved or painted there this summer? How many ‘going steady’ proclamations were bonded or broken while sitting on an overhang of that landmark?
I really liked the adventure of target practice at the dump. It was nasty smelling from decaying garbage and smokey burn-off, but there were lots of glass bottles that pinged, clinked, or crystallized depending on the angle of the bullet as it met its target. It was like instant aerobic exercise when the family of bears wandered out to see where the commotions was coming from. Safely back on the two track we climbed trees to get the ripest green apples. The memory muscle in my jaw still remembers the sensation as the tartness and delicious juice of wild apples crushed between my teeth.
Then there was the camping trip with my best friend. Our parents let us take the tent and supplies to the county park for a whole week at a cost of $7.00 or 14 hours of babysitting money. I can still smell the pungent aroma and hear the popping and sizzle of potatoes and corn roasting in the coals of our fire. Two boys came out with their motor bikes and let us ride them. It was my first few miles riding on a motorized 2-wheeled bike. At last count I have nearly 50,000 miles on a motorcycle.
Summers in the 60s were, by today’s standards, quiet and passive. My memory replays the good parts while subduing the bad. My summer vacations have now spanned 4 decades, 3 kids, a travel trailer, and 2 dogs. We now own a cabin on 20 acres of land in a tiny community in northern Michigan. Our family has expanded to 2 more kids (through marriage) and 5 grandkids. Our summers don’t include hitchhiking or long walks to the rock crusher where undying love is proclaimed. Our campfires consist of hotdogs and s’mores roasted over a fire pit. Target practice is relegated to our own property and we shoot at paper plates. No bears have been sighted. We buy sweet cherries from a roadside stand but our apples come from an orchard where we spend a Sunday afternoon going through the corn maze and petting animals like llamas and tame emus.
What I did on my summer vacation has changed. The evidence is in the 6 bags of bedding and towels waiting for me in my laundry room. As we drive up the driveway the crunch of gravel under our wheels tell me I’m home. There are no students clustered in desks waiting to hear the dreaded words, “Write an essay titled, “What I did on my summer vacation.” Instead, I let the tape play over and over in my memory of blessed time spent with family, the mound of laundry as evidence that vacation was a complete success. Coming home from vacation would be sad, but in a crazy cookie cutter sort of way, I know we are destined to repeat the joy again and again.
2nd place Beginner’s category – The FaithWriters Writing Challenge