What I did on my summer vacation – actually, I’m still doing it – I went back home to see family and friends. If hurricanes remained offshore, I am now in Florida visiting a lot of the people I care most about in the world and, with any luck, am enjoying sea bass, hush puppies, black-eyed peas with pot likker and real Key lime pie. The tastes of home!
It couldn’t be hotter, more humid or more vulnerable to hurricanes than it is right now in Florida. Dumb time to go, I know, but it works out right for me, though it’s not exactly a restful vacation. I’ll be driving all over the state to spend a day or two with everyone. Mostly we’ll just sit (or float in a pool) and talk, share some meals, look at the past year’s photos of children’s marriages, new grandchildren and those landmarks that are important in our lives.
This probably sounds pretty dull, I know, but I love this trip, one I try to do as often as I can. I always learn something new about the people I think I already know everything about, and I almost always come back with some personal insights about myself. You’re never too old to grow and learn – and there’s nothing like spending time with people who can make fun of your embarrassing moments of childhood to help you along in that process.
This year I’ll be spending a day with my cousin Evelyn, actually my father’s cousin. I haven’t seen her since I was maybe 10 and she was already a married woman. She asked if I could stop by this year. When we talked on the phone she mentioned offhandedly that my grandmother had been her favorite aunt. I was kind of shocked.
My grandmother, who died when I was 8, lived with us and took care of me while my parents worked. On the weekends, she would go to the home of one of her brothers, which is where Evelyn got close to her.
What was surprising about hearing that Oma (German for grandmother) was special to her was it meant that my grandmother had a personality, a life beyond just being my caregiver. I still have a small child’s view of Oma, and that doesn’t give space for her being a woman with humor, thoughts and interests outside of, well, me. I’m embarrassed at that, but I’m eager to learn about my grandmother courtesy of her favorite niece. And, of course, Evelyn and I have many decades to catch up on – all in one day. Did I mention this isn’t restful?
I’ll have a day with another cousin who had breast cancer surgery a year ago. I’m looking forward to seeing her healthy and wig-free. In addition, her older sister, who I haven’t seen since I was first married, will be there. They have already reminded me of some family English-German language adventures that were peculiar and funny, and I look forward to hearing more.
This trip isn’t about nostalgia. OK, for those I don’t see regularly, it is, but for friends and family I just saw last summer, we might spend 15 minutes on remember-when conversation, but mostly we’ll talk about our lives today and just enjoy the kind of time you can have with people who have known you forever.
It’s funny, though I lived in Miami, I’ll just be there one day. Only my college roommate still lives there. Everyone else is scattered across the state. If they had any consideration for me at all, they’d have clustered together in a 50-mile radius, but no, they settled where they wanted. So, I’ll be driving, driving, driving. Thank goodness the rental car has unlimited mileage and there are soft beds waiting upon my arrival.
One of my very favorite stops next week will be with my 86-year-old friend Joan. Last year she taught me a new card game, which I now play regularly with friends here. Of course, Joan and her octogenarian friends beat me handily last summer, and I’m looking forward to showing her my progress. Joan said she has an even more challenging game waiting, and I have no doubt I’m going to get trounced again. I’m fine with that.
I have not lived in Florida for many, many years, and I know it’s really only home for me as a place of memory. It’s changed, I’ve changed. But I always gain something when I go back. I always have a good time – and that’s what a vacation is for, right? But I also get exhausted from it all.
So after Labor Day, I’ll return to my real home – and rest up.