Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pickle Barrel Houses and Dinosaur Parks

Today, while accompanying my husband on a visit to the doctor's, I decided that rather than waiting inside the office for him, I would sit and read in our car, instead.  I was about to grab the paper that I had brought along to peruse, when I was suddenly distracted by the distinctive sound of a Cardinal singing, somewhere nearby, hidden amidst the branches of the pine trees that outlined the lot. I rested my head on my arms, as I leaned out my opened car window, and contentedly searched the tree line until I glimpsed the bird's bright, red feathers, nestled cozily upon the swaying, green branches of the pines. The gentle breeze that tousled my hair, the sound of the cardinal singing and the  lovely sight of the pines, must have been reminiscent of something from my childhood, because I unexpectedly found myself transported back to the vacations of my youth. Since our budget was limited, we often went on mini-vacations; such as day trips that began early in the morning and that lasted late into the night, or one night stays at modest hotels; replete with picnic suppers, prepared the night before, and served on blankets that we spread out on the hotel room floor, so that we could avoid the added expense of eating dinner at a restaurant. Those memories are so dear to me, as I recall the four of us children and my mother, eating our sandwiches together as we sat on our blanket, savoring each sip of our cans of pop; a treat we looked forward to all day, and one that was only reserved for very special occasions.  I am struck, once again, by how such a humble meal remains so vivid in my memory, and how creative and resourceful my young mother was in providing her four children with such magical adventures, despite her limited means.
Our day trips were often to Irish Hills, and we would picnic along the beach and swim, or, every now or then, attend one of the tourist destinations that were touted upon the many billboards that lined the roadside.  One of my favorites was the dinosaur attraction that allowed visitors to view life-size statues of the prehistoric creatures, some of which provided stairs, so visitors could climb right up into the bellies of the beasts; all displayed in a wooded setting to give them that "prehistoric" feel.  Another was a tribute to the old west called "The Stagecoach Stop," which included a general store with penny candy, as well as the opportunity for visitors to witness one or two staged gunfights between disgruntled cowboys out on the dusty streets of town.  We often visited Saint Joseph's Shrine too, and walked along its 14 outdoor "Stations of the Cross," marveling at their craftsmanship, as well as the beauty of the setting.  I remember "Mystery Hill" and the enormous Paul Bunyan statue, and although they may seem hokey to some, they were the "Las Vegas- style" attractions of my youth.  Remembering them makes me want to see them again, and, for a moment I pause, and say a little prayer of gratitude that I was blessed with the mother that I have. She was fearless and fun, and she allowed no obstacle to stop her from giving us each, a childhood we could cherish. 
With the newspaper still unread beside me, I thought about my own attempts to provide some magical, vacation memories for my own four children. I remembered, how on a wonderful trip to Mackinac Island, we stopped, while enroute, at a beach-side park in  East Tawas, because we spotted a giant play castle in the sand, and, whenever one is fortunate enough to see a giant play castle in the sand, it is mandatory that one stop the car and get out and play in it.  On the island we rode in a horse-drawn carriage, ate fudge, visited a fort and, in a moment of temporary insanity, rented bikes to ride around the island on.  It only took us a few minutes to recognize that the six of us could not maneuver through the crowds, but we ended up paying for 2 hours rental on the bikes, because it took us that long to get back to the rental stand. I recall the laughter our misadventure evoked, and it makes me feel happy all over again. I thought about how we have climbed the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes together, and rolled down them on the way back. Together, we have toured the "Pickle Barrel House" in Grand Marais, and ascended the twisting staircase of the Au Sable Point Lighthouse at Pictured Rock National Lakeshore; enjoying the breath-taking, panoramic view that the observation deck provides one with. I smiled to myself, as I remembered that on these adventures I made my children adhere to the strict rule that one should eat ice-cream cones as often as possible...preferably for breakfast.  
Still, as I looked off into the distance, I thought about how I tried to follow in my own mother's footsteps...to be the kind of mother to my children, that my own was, to me.   I pondered if my girls have ever found themselves unexpectedly daydreaming about their childhood vacations, and savoring the happy memories of summers, well-spent....then, I wondered wistfully, if memories from those vacations ever made my daughters feel about me, the way I feel about my mother.
I was startled from my thoughts, as I heard Dave's footsteps approaching the car after finishing his appointment.  I set aside my unread newspaper and put the key in the ignition, as he got into the car. On the way home I told Dave about the Cardinal...and why I never got to read my paper.  For the rest of the ride home we shared our vacation memories with each other...and the hope that the future still provides us with the opportunity to make a few more vacation memories, together with our daughters.
...I hope all of you have a summer that allows you to make your own vacation memories to savor...and a future filled with the opportunities to make many, many more.  Blessings to you all....Amycita xoxox