We leave for our extended family vacation in a few weeks. It's become an every-three-years tradition for my two sisters and me, our families and our mother. Every three years works well for the Stanfa clan. It's frequent enough to maintain those warm and fuzzy family ties, yet far enough distanced to forget how close we came the last time to committing family genocide.
In families like ours, the key to vacationing together is learning survival tactics. I don't mean knowing how to make a shelter, how to signal for help or how to ration a water supply. In our extended family, roughing-it survival means knowing ahead to rent three separate cottages with multiple bedrooms, ensuring we find week-long entertainment suitable for replacing Facebook and reliable cellphone coverage, and having access to plenty of liquor.
We were not, clearly, destined to stay with John Boy and Grandma on Walton's Mountain.
Stanfa Family Vacations weren't always this way. For the first 14 years of my life, our yearly family vacation consisted of spending not one but two weeks every summer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. No bathtub or shower. No hot water. No TV. No playground or organized activities for the kids.
We bathed in the frigid lake. Our primary entertainment was playing pinochle or fishing from a rented rowboat. We slept--all six in our extended family--in a tiny two-bedroom cabin.
Yet somehow, for all of us, this cramped, self-entertaining trip was the highlight of the summer.
So what's changed? Why do we require so much more from a family getaway now than we did then?
Could it be that we're all more tightly wound than we were a few decades ago? That we've all become accustomed to living in 2,500-foot homes and staying in four-star hotels? That the entertainment value of card games and casting for perch have made way for wireless internet and weekend parties with everyone but our own families?
Maybe those of us old enough to remember the Ghosts of Vacations Past have simply forgotten their magic. And those too young to have experienced them simply need an introduction.
I started packing this week. I gathered together a deck of cards and a couple board games. A bag of marshmallows and some Jiffy-Pop to burn over the bonfire. A couple of dusty fishing poles.
I decided, with a lingering and forlorn glance, to leave my laptop behind.
But I am sure as hell not giving up having a bed to myself. Or a bathtub, with running hot water. And while I will gladly partake of a fresh lake perch dinner, there will be no cleaning of fish guts in my future.
Nostalgic memories aside, some ghosts just make you shiver.