My wife, years ago, wooed me into the long vacation.
I’m aware that the John Cheever gentry might have seen vacation or “summering” as something that extended out for three or four months at the shore, but for me, as a child, the “long vacation” was two weeks.
It was a mythical thing. We never really achieved it. One year, sometime after my 12th birthday, my dad and I charted out a two week trip by drawing a large, squarish route — from Southern California to Santa Fe, New Mexico, up to Colorado Springs and Missoula, Montana, over to Spokane, Washington, then down to Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, then Santa Maria (my father’s favorite California town), and finally back home. My dad, however–a depression baby if ever there were one–began to have pause. As the vacation planning proceeded, he worried about sales, and eventually, after many re-drawings, this long squarish, whirl-wind tour got reduced to a lightning fast drive up to Bountiful, Utah (his hometown) and back.
Even though I was disappointed, I think I understood the priorities he had to balance. I know that he wanted to have three or four weeks with his children. I knew that he loved teaching us how to gut rainbow trout and how to read a green. I knew that he loved planning dinner even more than my mother. He wanted to be unplugged, wind in his hair, and the Grand Tetons spreading out before the sunset — with nothing but our common memories salting the barbecue and the simmering corn. Most families, even if they don’t say so, are celebrating a God that lets them share, for an absurdly brief time, a common set of smiles and stories.
We really want some moment when the bickering stops and we bond, in common defense, against the weirdness of the world — the desperado that walks into the Durango convenience store, stinking of whiskey and bad intent.
“Did you see that guy?”
“Get in the car, boys. Get Susan over here.”
Against the confusion of life, we get to say that we — we happy few — are family. We may actually hate each other sometimes. We may fight over resources and affection and justice, but we have this at the very least: We all witnessed the shepherding of a childhood together. Children have to endure redrawn vacation maps and mistaken parenting. Parents have to endure the terrible charge of teaching children what we sometimes don’t know ourselves — the final truths about God’s world. We try, and we fail, but we do it together.
In every family there will be some version of this memory..
“Dad, you remember that time you got so mad at me over the wheels I put on the Nova?”
Laughter. Memories of a cupboard being slammed shut. A shouting match, an anger, that at this distance, makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. We were all trying to do our own version of the right thing, because God had put us together, with our own wilderness to conquer, not for just a two week vacation, but for a lifetime.
Certainly, we need to get away sometimes, but some folks never vacation even when they’re vacationing, because what we’re really seeking isn’t on the road. It’s the vacation you take when you release yourself from concern, when you sit down at the kitchen table and witness God’s miracle right in front of you. There are no invoices to be paid for the moment, no county inspection the next morning. There’s just another soul going through life with you, someone who reminds you to take a deep breath– to smile, and say, “how you doin’, Clark?”
I think my own father learned how to take those holidays better than I have, which means, Dad, I still have a lot to learn.