Travel Readers Share Their Summer Vacation Memories

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"How I Spent My Summer Vacation" is an essay permanently etched in our minds. Perhaps the color of the cottage was blue, not gray, and it was Uncle Frank, not Al, who wore the lobster-patterned trunks, but the recollections that matter are as fresh as a blackberry picked straight off the bush.

As we excitedly welcome June, and all of its anticipated pleasures and joys, we can't help but think of the past. When we were small and free, enjoying the warmest weeks of the year with our beloved yet nutty families, all four or 10 of us crammed into a mountainside cabin, beachfront bungalow or VW camper. When the biggest decision was vanilla or strawberry ice cream, swim or build sand castles, Mom's or Dad's lap. When the smallest experiences led to such bliss that, decades later, we still pause to relive that moment, then return to reality with a secret smile on our lips.

To celebrate the start of summer vacation, we have collected memories (edited for space and style) from readers who generously opened their doors to their pasts and let us in. (See Page F6.) Trust us, you will be lulled by their reminiscences and recharged by the warmth of their anecdotes. And while you may wish you had been there, if only as the intrusive neighbor or the family dog, don't neglect your own history. Remember, the memory machine never turns off.

-- Andrea Sachs

My parents were 18-year-old Washingtonians when they married in 1962. A decade and four children later, they decided we needed more exposure to the United States and embarked on a series of cross-country trips, each time venturing farther and farther west. The first year, we crammed into an orange VW bus and drove to Indianapolis to visit my father's childhood friend. A year or so later, we packed up again, this time to Bismarck, N.D., where my parents had friends.

I remember flashes of events: the disappointing stench of the Great Salt Lake and the soaring beauty of Crazy Horse Memorial; the donkeys we rode into the Grand Canyon and our fear of falling off the edge of the world; the peace of sleeping in a single hotel room, my family all in one place. What I remember most clearly, though, was the music my father blasted from his eight-track player: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Diamond, Santana, Helen Reddy. My sisters and I did not like this stuff, but no one dared question Dad's musical tastes. Instead, we sang along.

Only now, 30 years later or more, do I see those vacations for what they truly were: acts of love and generosity, my young parents determined to show us a world much bigger than our own Maryland suburb.

Janice Lynch Schuster, Riva, Md.

When I was a kid in New Jersey, we spent two weeks every summer renting a beachfront house in Barnegat Light, on Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore. Several times each visit, we'd take a trip to the small harbor at 4 p.m., just as the charter fishing boats were returning from sea. You could buy, right off the boat, beautiful bluefish, a foot long or more, for $1 each. To this day, I love bluefish because it tastes like my childhood.

Cathy Ciccolella, Sarasota, Fla.

Until I was 13, my mother, father, sister and I -- plus the family dog (there was always one of those) -- would pile into a VW Bug for the 15-hour, un-air-conditioned trek from our home in South Florida to western North Carolina. We stayed at Nantahala Village, in a tiny log cabin that hung over a large mountainside. The old lodge burned down several years ago and was replaced with a new one, but much of the place remains the same, and I visit as often as I can.

Kelly Heath, Asheboro, N.C.

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