Growing up, we took a vacation seemingly every summer. I remember my mother waking me up in the early morning hours, telling me to get ready because we were leaving in fifteen minutes. The suitcases were packed and the station wagon or minivan had been loaded since the day before. The only thing missing at five in the morning were the travelers.
And we marched in, one by one. Seven of us total made the annual pilgrimage to various battlefields, aunt's houses, Freedom Trails, and beaches. Sometimes we brought along a cousin, bringing the total to eight occupants in a seven person van filled with luggage. I don't know how my parents survived those trips.
Reality tells us that we all must grow up, and so the inevitable happened with my family. The two oldest siblings acquired jobs and started college, and couldn't just leave for two weeks in the summer. Still my parents packed up the three youngest and headed South, East, or West. But the cracks in the foundation were visible by then, signaling the ritual would soon crumble.
Like those beautiful sunsets over the ocean, it must come to an end. My siblings began to marry off and create their own families, their own traditions. I moved away for college, came home for law school, and then moved away again for a job. There was no special decree declaring the end of childhood. No one ever told me it was time to be an adult. The benefit of life's rearview mirror allow me to say my childhood ended when those family vacations stopped. When everyone became too busy to spend a week or more together away from the lives they were creating.
But like the sunset, the tradition was hiding, waiting to be discovered when the night faded. And so in 2007, with me trying to find my way in life, we tried to reignite the flames of our youth. We trekked across the country to a beach house, where we filled that unsuspecting house to capacity with not only the amount of people but the large personalities that had developed. That successful vacation led us to try again this year.
We had increased our number to 22 - three more significant others had joined the family and four more children. An enormous house welcomed us, again not prepared for the noise my family can create. Jokes, laughter, chairs scraping against the floor, the blender mixing fruity drinks, the sound of seven children under ten years old running through the house mixed to rival the sound of an airplane taking off.
At times this past week, I took leave of my family and spent some time alone on a porch with my book. It's odd that you need to pull away from people to truly appreciate them. Instead of focusing on the book, I found myself reflecting on my family. How far we had all come since those first family vacations I can remember. My parents had five children, and each has a completely different personality spun from the family web my parents created.
My sisters are organizers. They make up the oldest and youngest members of the flock. The oldest is the unquestioned leader, no matter what we tell her. The youngest is the reminder. She ensures that no one forgets a date or a duty. The oldest boy takes care-free to another level. He never takes himself too seriously and, therefore reminds us that we shouldn't either. The middle boy provides the comedy. No matter how much I try to emulate it, my jokes just aren't as funny to the instant wit he provides. I guess I'm the moderator of the group. Each person operates independently, but when the five of us are together trying to recapture a little of the childhood we lost, it is obvious that we have thrived because of each other.
The waves of the ocean crashed against the shore, wiping a layer of sand each time. It's the same as the years to us. They pass, stripping away more and more of the childhood we remember. It happens gradually, in tiny unnoticeable chunks, until you look down and attempt to fathom what happened to the last twenty years. For one week this summer, I recreated what it was like to grow up in my family. Happy or sad, good or bad, we were together. The children and significant others only amplify that intense feeling of intimacy. The organism that is my family has absorbed each new person and grown into a being even greater than the seven of us originally were.
The best news of all? We don't have to wait five more years, even though some of us probably want to.
And that is how I spent my summer vacation.