Thus Spake Zuska

Summer Vacations of My Youth

Technically, this is my 500th post at Scienceblogs, although I believe that includes a few I wrote but never published. So, 500 within a slight margin of error. Let us now celebrate this arbitrary milestone!!!!!

And now, on to the post.

September Scientiae is up at Lab Cat’s place.

At the end of the summer, the Scientiae Labor Day BBQ was held at Lab Cat’s place. After eating mounds of delicious food and drinking a few good drinks, our women scientists came together around the fire holding the last of the marshmallows over the coals for a last bite of smores and summer. Ella Fitzgerald sang quietly in the background.

Lab Cat knows how to throw a barbecue! It’s a great carnival and you will enjoy the great posts and possibly making the acquaintance of some bloggers you haven’t read before. This happens to me nearly every month with Scientiae which is one of the things I love about it.

Sadly I did not get my act together in time to contribute. I am in Western Pa right now, flew here today and spent the afternoon/evening with mom. Will stay till Friday. I should be asleep right now but instead I thought I’d try writing a short version of the post I had planned to contribute to Scientiae.

I flew to Pittsburgh today with my sister, who had spent the Labor Day weekend with me in Philly. We had a mini “staycation” for just the two of us in Philadelphia. She arrived last Thursday, and we packed a tremendous amount of fun into four days. Of course this included eating lots and lots of great food – you haven’t lived till you’ve had tomato gelato at Capogiro’s in Philly. And when I get back home I will upload the picture of the tomato gelato from my camera and add it to this post. It would make a grown woman cry, I’m telling you. We didn’t spend all our time eating, however. We engaged in many cultural pursuits, including taking in some of the Philly Fringe & Live Arts Festival. One highlight was Disco Descending.

Death! Middle age! Spandex! It’s 1978. A group of suburban forty-somethings gathers to mourn the loss of a friend. But when disco magic delivers a chance for resurrection, everything changes. Can true love beat death while wearing platform shoes? Choreographer and director Karen Getz returns to the Live Arts Festival with Disco Descending, the sequel to her 2006 Live Arts runaway hit, Suburban Love Songs. Featuring original cast members Jen Childs, Karen Getz, and Dave Jadico, along with 1812 Productions’ Pete Pryor, Disco Descending sets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice against a Saturday Night Fever backdrop in a comic actors’ ballet driven by dark themes and lit by a big, sparkly ball. If you’ve ever wished that everyday suburban life would spiral into boogie madness, Disco Descending is the show for you.

I’m telling you, it was chock-full of awesome, and I will never ever think of Styx’s hit “Lady” in the same way again. Hilarious, heartbreaking, see it if you ever get the chance.

At the end of my sister’s visit we spent some time looking at old black and white photos from our childhood – you know, the small square photos? Maybe you don’t know, unless you are of a certain age. Anyway, a good number of these photos were from camping trips, and we got to talking about past summer vacations.

From when I was a young child through my teenage years, my family went on a camping trip every summer, and every summer we went somewhere new. We started camping when my younger sister was still being potty trained, and we camped in a tent – all six children and my parents sleeping in one tent. I really don’t know how my mother coped, but she did, womanfully. (The word manfully is clearly inappropriate and inadequate here.)

We kids loved those camping trips, and they were a great good time for my father the coal miner – ten days to two weeks out in the fresh air and sunshine, not going down in the coal mine! Just having fun! Fishing, relaxing, drinking beer, seeing the sights with his family. For my mother, of course, all the fun came along with all the work of home – cooking, cleaning, laundry, minding the kids – just transported to the campground, along with the attendant difficulties of completing those chores in that environment. Yet I believe she loved those vacations just as much as the rest of us.

Each vacation included some standard components. The chosen campground had to have certain features – flush toilets, showers, playground, swimming pool, fishing nearby or on site. Rec halls were good – oh, the happy times spent playing air hockey! You kids with the Wii just don’t know. A miniature golf course was a bonus! The location had to provide access to something fun – say, an amusement park. One year we toured the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But it also had to include a historical/educational component. The year we went to Indiana and the speedway, we also went to Illinois and to Lincoln’s New Salem. Another year it was Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. Yin and yang – every vacation was balanced in this way.

The example my parents set for us through these vacations taught several important lessons. Not all the coal miners in our home town went off on vacation with their families during the summer vacation period. I would say we were more the exception rather than the rule; people would be sitting on their porches waving us off as we drove out of town with our loaded down car towing the tent trailer behind it. Some men didn’t take time off at all; they’d work through vacation and collect their vacation days as extra pay. My dad was fond of saying that no one could pay him enough money to work through his vacation. That was Important Lesson #1. Always take all your vacation days. No job is important enough, nothing you do is critical enough, for you to not take vacation. Work will always be there waiting for you when you get back.

Important Lesson #2: while on vacation, play some and think some. And Important Lesson #3: always try something new, if you can possibly arrange to. As I said, we went somewhere different every year, and even if it was a year when we could only afford a relatively short local trip, we still went somewhere new. A different campground. Some new historical site. The fun and the learning were still included.

Important Lesson #4 is one I have not done a good job with as an adult: Keep a record of your trips. Dad kept a camp book and wrote a short entry in it every night when we were camping. He pasted in receipts and ticket stubs, and when we look at that book now it brings back a flood of memories. Most wonderful of all is seeing Dad’s printed text (he never wrote cursive) and feeling that visceral connection to him now that he is gone. His hand, here, on this page, writing these words – that day, there, in the campground, we did those things. It makes me sad and happy at the same time, and somehow that is a good thing. The computer lets me write much more easily and more quickly than I possibly can by hand on paper with pen, and I can communicate with far more people with my blog than my dad ever did with his camp book. But there’s a definite trade-off, and the physicality of handwriting is something to treasure. Well, whether by handwritten logbook or computer-generated blog, keeping a record of your travels is a gift you can give to your children. Maybe not having children has encouraged me to be lax about Important Lesson #4. That’s no reason for you to be so!

My dad never finished high school, my mom never went beyond high school, but these parents of mine instilled in us a love of seeing new things and learning about history, a sense that learning was something you kept doing throughout your life. They taught us that vacation and pleasure were just as important as working hard at your job, and that part of the pleasure of a vacation was going somewhere new and learning about that place. We kids were lucky to have parents that didn’t want to spend miner’s vacation sitting on the porch at home. We were lucky to have parents who valued learning and pleasure, and who saw the connection between the two.

I think about the trip my sister and I took with my mom last year to Cape Hatteras. Cape Hatteras was the one place that made my dad want to go back again and again. I am so grateful that my sister and I took the time last year – rearranged our schedules, she took five precious vacation days – to take my mom there. It was a wonderful trip for all of us. Mom is much weaker this year and her health more fragile than it was even six months ago and I do not think that we would be able to undertake such a trip with her again. That may have been our last big vacation with mom.

You simply cannot afford to put off your vacations. There is no better time than now to go on vacation. Your work will never simmer down, it will always be busy and always be waiting for you. The people you love – not so much. Go while you can, enjoy the company of those you love. Learn something new. Have fun in a new place. My dad would be happy for you.

Comments

  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    September 2, 2008

    A very touching memoir, Zuska!

  2. #2 Yttrai
    September 2, 2008

    I am going to save that for future reading, unless that strikes you as stalkerish. I have a big file of inspirational words i’ve found online (oddly enough called “teaching”) and i’m careful to give credit to where i found them.

    Your Important Lesson #4 reminds me of one my parents taught me – DON’T WAIT around to take a vacation. So many of my friends won’t go camping with their kids, since the kids “aren’t old enough”. I was camping with various sections of my family since birth! I was carried on my dad’s back while he xcountry skiied in the depths of winter! I was 7 months old my first xmas, and the entire family hiked a couple of miles to find the perfect xmas tree! And despite my “not being old enough” to engage in these activities, i think i turned out quite well, thank you very much.

    Thank you for a great post that reminds us of what’s important in life :)