We did not vacation when I was a kid. Most regular middle-class families back then didn't do as much in the way of elaborate family vacationing, maybe a long car trip to the Grand Canyon or something at the very most. But we really didn't do much. Driving to Indiana to visit my mother's half-sister and her six kids about once a year was pretty much it. We didn't do anything there except eat and play canasta and watch tv, while I marveled at the very different dynamics of the Large Family, which was "older kids watch the younger kids." The oldest daughter seemed to be completely in charge of the youngest one at all times, even for meals and bedtimes. This bothered me a bit, as I think at the time the oldest girl was around 12. It seemed too much. The thing I remember most about those trips was driving past Gary, Indiana and trying not to breathe for the stench of it. It seemed, from the interstate anyway, to be the pit of hell, far far removed from my quiet grassy rural upbringing.

I think about all the big vacations I have planned out over the years for my kids, always thinking about what they would enjoy, what experiences would be cool for them to have, how to please everyone in a week to ten days. I wonder if they will remember much of them. Sometimes it is hard to justify the thousands of dollars spent in airfare, hotel, food, tickets to whatever. I still cannot bring myself to go Disneying with my two youngest. I took the oldest when he was about 7, and it was seriously not fun, not even he thought so. Endless waiting in lines in the heat for things that were OK, but not great, pushing through crowds to do anything or go anywhere. He had much more fun back at the hotel pool, that is a fact, and a good thing to remember. Hotel pool = always fun.

I shouldn't say I never vacationed as a kid; I did, twice to the same place in the same summer. It was quite a shock, that we were actually going to drive Up Nort and stay in a cabin in Sugar Camp, WI., obviously placed on Sugar Camp Lake. My dad knew the people who owned the small resort, a brash, salt-of-the-earth type older couple. And when I say "resort," I am not talking anything other than a few tiny log cabins with Indian names resting in the sandy, pine-tree studded soil, and a common building with a jukebox, a bar, a Coke machine, and a very-randomly-staffed kitchen. A steep slope led to a small pier on the cool clear lake, really a little chilly for swimming even. My dad staked himself out at the bar with his friends, my mom always seemed to be cooking or cleaning even in the damn cabin, and I was able to set out on my own to do whatever. It was easy to make friends with the other kids that were staying there, and we all formed a little tribe of sorts.

I only have a few bits and pieces left to what I remember of the two trips to Sugar Camp:

  • The sheer thrill of getting yet another quarter for the Coke machine or even better, the jukebox, where a quarter got you five plays of "It's Too Late" by Carole King, "Indian Reservation" by Paul Revere and the Raiders, "You've Got A Friend" by James Taylor, "Draggin' The Line," "Mony Mony," and "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James, and "Apeman" by the Kinks. There were a few Big Band and polka songs in there for good measure. I remember asking my mom why the adults at the bar played "Indian Reservation" over and over and over again, because I was getting sick of it. She said, "I think the drunk people like the heavy beat."
  • Fishing off of the pier, fully expecting to get a Muskie, but only snaring teeny minnows or smelt or hell I don't remember what. Little silver fishies I threw back. It would've helped to use bait.
  • A huge thunderstorm in the night, which sent me and my brother into my folks' bed, at far older an age than was probably reasonable.
  • Riding a minibike and getting stuck in the sand.
  • Eating a bowl of cold cereal in the cool crisp sunny morning, eager to get out and explore.
  • Meeting a mom with my same first name and birthday.
  • Wishing we could've stayed the whole summer.
I never asked why we went up there that summer, and never before and never after. We moved to an even smaller town of 300 people that fall, and the summers were spent in swampy humid misery, where the toads in the river were mutated by run-off from the electroplating plant nearby, and a field of corn grew across from that. My feet would get black with tar from walking on the hot asphalt of my driveway, and I would ride my bike, alone to a nearby quarry to slide down the steep banks or look for old bottles unearthed. "Maggie May" played over and over, and I thought of Up Nort, my old home, and far away places.