Preparing for Summer
Memories and Plans For a Season of Travel
How quickly spring seems to tumble to summer. It doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago that there was the chill of winter in the air. Now temperatures are heading north. We will soon be in the season of school graduations, a bounty of fruits and vegetables at the market, and that great tradition of summer travel.
For some of us, these journeys will be to far-flung locales. For others, limited by finances, health, or a variety of other constraints, there may be a striving for a few local day trips or not much movement at all.
We may welcome family for quick visits or extended stays. These can be cherished moments with loved ones. They can also reveal the realities of complicated relationships.
Parents of young children will drag strollers, food containers, and car seats through airports, and in car trunks, suitcases will compete for space with stuffed animals. Older children will alternate hugs and excitement with the sulkiness of adolescence. There will be countless versions of “Are we there yet?”
Some of us are brushing up on foreign languages, making sure the camping gear is in good shape, or procrastinating about plans not yet made. Then there is always the fraught business of shopping for and wearing bathing suits.
Pictures will be taken. Heads will rest on neighboring shoulders. And there will be disputes over what to listen to on the stereo. There will be long bus trips, rest stops, and missed trains. There will be hellos and goodbyes. And in the end, there will be a lot of memories. Hopefully most of them are fond.
As we think back to previous summers, often the broader narrative of an entire trip is fuzzy, but certain moments jump from our mind with crystal clarity. It could be the feeling of the sun at a picnic, a sweeping view, or the faces full of life that are now no longer with us.
In What Unites Us, I related the story of my first summer trip, or really my first trip of any kind. It was modest when compared to where and how I would travel later in life. But it still looms large more than 80 years later.
I figured I would reshare it here with the hopes that some of you might also share your memories of past trips in the comments. Or maybe tell us what you have planned for this summer. You can offer recommendations of favorite destinations or what’s on your summer playlist. A few of you might even wish to share a cherished summer recipe.
We greatly appreciate how the Steady community can be a place for reflection, inspiration, humor, and goodwill.
When I was a young boy, we didn’t have much in the way of material possessions. But around 1940 or ’41, we got our first family car — a heavily used 1938 Oldsmobile that I can still see so clearly in my mind’s eye. Its previous owner had lived along the Gulf of Mexico, and it was thus considered a “coastal car,” which meant it was rusted, especially along the lower-left side. Its engine had also thrown a rod, blowing a big hole in the engine block, which had been patched. It was a bit of a rolling wreck, but I didn’t see it as anything but beautiful.
In my neighborhood, the notion of a family vacation was an unheard-of luxury, something you might see in the movies but never expected to experience yourself. Yet that year, as the Fourth of July approached, my mother had the idea of driving to the beach in Galveston to see the fireworks over the Gulf of Mexico. My father was a little unsure of trusting the new car to take his young family on the round trip of roughly 100 miles, but my mother was persuasive. When the morning of the Fourth arrived, I was giddy with anticipation.
A trip from Houston to Galveston these days is relatively easy. At that time it was a big deal. There were no freeways, so we took the two-lane coastal road, and I remember how hot the day was. The humidity must have been approaching 100 percent. All the car windows were down, and to help the time pass, my mother had us sing patriotic songs. First and foremost was “America the Beautiful.” She always thought it should have been made the national anthem, as it is less militaristic than “The Star-Spangled Banner” and easier to sing. I have inherited that opinion. We did sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” too, however, and there was a debate in the car about whether we should stop so that we could get out and stand while we were singing. We ultimately decided that we should probably keep going, our hands over our hearts as we sang. As proud Texans, we included several state songs in our repertoire (“Texas, Our Texas,” “Beautiful Texas,” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas”). I remember singing my heart out, and we repeated the songs over and over again, stopping to make sure my little brother and sister could learn the lyrics.
When we finally arrived in Galveston, it seemed magical. I can still taste the salt air and see the sun flickering on the rippling water of the Gulf. As we all sat on the seawall that had been built after the great hurricane of 1900, I thought this work of civil engineering was so marvelous it might as well have been the Great Wall of China. We played on the beach, and when the sun went down, we watched the fireworks. In retrospect, this was probably a modest show — low budget and low altitude — but I was transfixed. I had never seen anything like it. I oohed and aahed at the starlit night. I knew, after all, that “the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas.”
We had no money for the extravagances of a hotel, so the five of us slept in the car, curling up every which way. As we drove back the next morning, we were all a little stiff, but for that moment life seemed perfect. I have often wished I could have bottled that day to taste its sweet innocence once more. I had no way of knowing then that the country would soon be engulfed in war, and that some of the happy families we saw strolling the beach would have fathers go off to battle and never return. I didn’t know that I soon would be stricken by rheumatic fever and confined to my bed. And I couldn’t have anticipated that my parents, whom I can still picture sitting contentedly in the front seat, would pass away relatively early in my life. All I knew then was that I liked the feel of the road and the sight of the scenery going past. I liked going places . . . and I still do.