A few friends with young children recently experienced the most magical of all spring vacations: a trip to Disney World.
Oh, my absolute envy. If I could, I'd make a pilgrimage to that Mecca of the Mouse every single year. My own Disney trips with my children evoke such exciting, heartwarming memories. Except... honestly... even as my mind races to recall these vacations, I remember very little. Neither do my two grown sons.
The passing of time is only partly to blame. I think the real reason these memories are vague is because the trips were perfectly pleasant--and not blemished by any tiny disasters.
And seriously: What fun is perfection?
Of the twenty or so vacations my sons and I have taken together, the one we remember most fondly is the Spring Break from Hell.
My sister DC is to thank--or to fault--for this. (She's at fault for much in my life, including my Barbie's fall from grace to a pin-pricked voodoo doll.) A few years ago, DC craved a last-minute escape from the harsh spring of Ohio. She booked a trip with her daughter to the only southern destination available through her time-share trade. With no plans ourselves, my boys and I joined them.
None of us can name the tiny mid-state Alabama town where we landed. I doubt it even exists on a U.S. map. What we haven't forgotten is desperately biding our time by renting dozens of movies from a video store where the clerk told us the nearby Walmart was the hub--nay, the heart--of the entire county. (We spent the next day there, and she was spot-on. Everyone who isn't anyone was there.) What we also remember is eating Easter dinner at a barbecue buffet where shoes appeared optional. And as far as our escaping to the sunny south? One needed a parka, which none of us packed, to venture outside at all. (We did so anyway. But we did wear shoes. With socks.)
A freaking catastrophe of a trip. But looking back at it now? Best. Vacation. Ever.
That experience was much like my other favorite vacation memories.
Of all my college-era camping trips, just one clear memory remains: the weekend thwarted by such a downpour that we slept in our cars and spent our waking hours huddled under a dense stand of trees. (Yes, lightening struck all around us, but we were young; beer trumped common sense.) Ravenous, we eyed our rations: potato chips and a pack of hot dogs. My friend John (rest in peace, Mr. Burgermeister) pulled out a paperback he was reading. He speared it with a stick and lit it afire with his Zippo. We shielded ourselves from the storm and singed our hot dogs over the sputtering flames. "It wasn't a very good book anyway," he said with a shrug.
I remember nothing about another camping trip my sisters and I took to Assateague Island in the eighties, except the part where the wild ponies knocked down our tent as we slept inside.
On a recent trip to New York City, two friends and I dined at world-renowned restaurants and saw a terrific Broadway show. So what do we recall when we discuss this trip? We talk about the drive home through the mountains when one of us had the highly unfortunate experience of needing to go to the bathroom---pronto--without a rest stop or exit for miles. We laughed, she cried, she crossed her legs. Oh, what memories our sadistic potty humor made during that single half-hour (which seemed likely seemed a century to her).
These are the stories that stick in our lives. What we recall forever are seldom the most perfectly executed experiences. Our best memories tend to be those moments that catch us off-guard. The little calamities. The lamented misfortune that at the time makes us hang our heads and yet weeks, or even years later, prompts us to turn to each other, grin and say, "Oh my God, remember that?"
If we want to collect a lifetime of happy memories, maybe what we need is a little bad luck.
I'm hoping to get seriously lost on my next road trip. To face nightmarish weather that causes me to alter my carefully planned agenda. To experience some tiny disaster that turns the vacation of my dreams into the trip from hell.
Oh, the horror I'll endure!
And later, I'll inevitably smile and think, damn, was that fun.
Any vacation catastrophes to share? Low points in your life that somehow became high points? Want more details on how you, too, can spend your spring vacation at an Alabama Walmart?