Sunday, August 20, 2006

Summer Lovin'

There was a list on the side of the fridge of all the things she’d planned to do this summer: go camping, travel, rock climb, sightsee, go to the aquarium, attend outdoor concerts, set up birthday parties, pack picnics, host pool parties, and spend many cool afternoons at the cinema.

But in the end, when the 81 days of summer vacation are over, the list has barely anything scratched off, and there are lines added at the bottom by the husband who feels a failure if things are incomplete, though she argues getting braces and going to a summer herpetology camp don’t count as a family activity, nor did the trip to the ice cream stand last Tuesday.

Summer is an excuse for her. A way to go schedule free for the first time in a year. Vacations that need too much planning are no fun—the old adage of take less stuff, bring more money is her mantra. The idea of traveling light appeals to her vagabond ways and she finds herself daydreaming in a colorful hammock of the year she backpacked through Europe hauling seventy pounds and sleeping on trains but never once feeling the aches and pains she feels now everyday before noon.

There’s a mandatory trip back home—this time to celebrate a marital milestone and when the weather turns to shit, most people rally—the better ones anyway. Thinking about it now, she realizes the problem with the hometown folk is that they don’t want. They have no desire to better themselves or their surroundings. They encircle themselves with people who are the same way and belittle those who embrace change. She thinks wanting should be a good thing. She can’t watch a home improvement show without trying the same techniques, without wishing for more, while she supposes these people would just shake their heads and switch the station to the poker playoffs.

Girl getaways are bargained for late at night amid twisted sheets. With her ploy being to tell him he is such a great father that this is his reward- to not have to share the kids. She can’t say it with a straight face and is glad of the dark, but he knows her too well and tells her no, this is your reward. Go ahead, have fun. Be safe. Never realizing that she’d be the one to jump out of the $83,000 BMW in the middle of traffic and run around to the trunk for the bottle opener and Chardonnay. Though he might be proud to know that she was the only one to remember the raft, the inflator and the herbal remedy.

The mountains of North Georgia are like most mountains, with scratchy bushes lining narrow roads (a negative for the new car) and a low river filled with fish ( a positive for an eager fisherman.) She is pleased that the cabin of choice is new and she won’t find herself cleaning or wincing at bug debris or restlessly stirring as she imagines alternate furniture layouts, better color schemes, more clever décor. The girls enjoy the benefits of a new log cabin with all the upscale accoutrements of a real house, including pool table and hot tub, yet the mountain goat terrain and the drought level Coosawattee River leaves something to be desired.

She wanted more than anything to fish, to wake early and be the first one to see the sun rise, to hear the geese take flight downstream and watch the neighbors do what neighbors do when they think no one is watching, but instead, she drinks too much, reads too long and sleeps too late. Maybe those are the things most girls would do without kids and so it seems okay, especially when she pops a beer at 11 AM and quotes a crappy country song, claiming, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

They browse shops, buy pastries they may never eat and wonder if the cancer survivor thinks she’s fooling anyone with her bad wig and painted on eyebrows and if she’s so sold on the strength of homeopathy, then why is she hiding her reality? They eat Cajun food, share secrets and laugh a lot. She’s amazed how the same yellow jacket sting can be handled in two absolutely different ways. Unlike what husbands imagine about girl getaways, there are rarely pillow fights in babydoll pajamas, or hair twirling confessions of closet lesbianism. For these girls it would be more likely they'd get tattoos, spend the day at a truck stop swapping stories with Bubba and the evening nursing injuries incurred on a drunken trek to the river's edge. They must not be the Grease Loving girls the husbands thought they married.

No one is the same age from the same place with the same family setup. On this vacation, no one pulls on their arm, no one needs them. There is no judgment, only freedom in their choices—when dinner is wine and cheese and breakfast is strong coffee, kiwis and clementines.

For some, an impromptu summer escape will be too frightening to enjoy. Those controlling, compulsive types can never just up and go. For some, a bit of preparation is best and for others, to not have specific arrangements means fate will have to intervene and if the outcome stinks, you won’t be responsible- because nothing is worse than a fully planned event that flops. She believes in the luck of the draw- with some pre-education. For instance, if there is no booze sold on Sunday, she needs to know by Friday. She acknowledges That the best things are discovered down unmarked roads. The person who travels away from crowds is a true adventurer, as is the person who follows screaming sirens. That was how they found the babies of The Deadheads.

In a small town in North Carolina the babies of The Deadheads gather in a parking lot waiting for the concert to begin. They are a hairy people. They smell musky and travel with dogs in painted buses and walk barefoot through modern towns like old hobos, some play bent saws with horsehair bows while others hawk tie-dyed skirts and thin t-shirts of hemp. They carry black balloons for reasons she cannot fathom and cherish untouchable creatures like whales, unreachable places like rainforests.

She takes her husband’s hand. It is their first trip without children- ever, and she wants him to experience every moment. They have planned only a few stops on this trip, waiting for the rest to unfold, to capture them, knowing that at some point they will be in the background of a stranger’s family portrait, their voice heard laughing for eternity as they pass the Japanese tourist with the video camera. Someone will remember this trip.

Prepared to be wowed by the wealthy, she’s instead disgusted by the choices those with money make. She is almost as sickened as she was in Vatican City, and feels certain if God were to bless her with millions she would never build a cold castle, leave it to people who would sell off the bountiful land and charge admission to see her drained indoor pool.

A month later, when they flip a coin and end up in a cottage on a barrier island off South Carolina, she knows she could return His blessing by buying a beach house and opening the doors to everyone they love. For the first time ever she feels at home in a place far from her house and more surprising than

that—she can’t wait for next summer.

Post a Comment