Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Seeking My Roots in Copenhagen

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2007, my daughter and I went to Copenhagen to visit my niece who was studying there. I can trace one branch of my ancestry back to Denmark, so the prospect of visiting that nation appealed to me. I wondered if I would feel a connection there, as I did when I visited Ireland a few years earlier.

My niece and her roommate were busy most of the time, so my daughter and I toured Copenhagen on our own. We took a boat tour of the city. I loved the brightly colored buildings that lined the canals. They reminded me of the row house doors in Dublin.

From the boat tour

We saw The Little Mermaid statue, which was beautiful albeit underwhelming (I’d been warned it was quite small). I remembered reading Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story as a child. I’d never liked Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, which seemed dark and horrific to me. I preferred the Grimms Brothers—as if those were a whole lot merrier.

The Little Mermaid

We climbed a church steeple for a panoramic view of the city. Gorgeous, though we then faced a long walk back to the apartment on tired legs. The view reminded me of Florence, Italy.

Copenhagen from the steeple

We went to museums, where all the signs were in English and German as well as Danish. I learned Danish history, including the very early Viking Danes who were the first Europeans to reach North America (unless the Irish Saint Brendan beat them by a few centuries).

And on one cloudy day, my niece took us to tour Kronberg Castle, supposedly the model for Shakespeare’s Elsinore in Hamlet. I’ve always had a thing for castles—probably because I grew up in a decidedly unromantic town built in the 1940s, which contained nothing remotely resembling a castle.

Kronberg Castle

We ate well. The Scandinavian penchant for fish at breakfast did not appeal to me, but everything else tasted great.

It was a wonderful trip. I loved Copenhagen and felt very comfortable there. What I saw brought to mind many memories, though none of them ancestral. I guess my Danish genes are too diluted (it was my great-great-grandfather who immigrated from Denmark to the United States). My other ancestors were mostly English, Irish, and Scotch, with a little German thrown in.

Still, I’m glad I went to Copenhagen, and I would happily go back. I may not have found my roots, but I enjoyed the trip.

Where are your roots, and when have you sought them out?

Random Photo: St. Louis, 1989, Our First Family Vacation

In the summer of 1989, when our daughter was four and our son seven, we took our first “real” family vacation. By that I mean, it was just my husband, me and the two kids, and we went somewhere other than to visit grandparents.

We’d taken our son on a couple of trips before daughter came along, or left her with grandparents when she was a baby. And our son had been places with his cousins and not us. But this was our daughter’s first “big girl” vacation. She was still in preschool and was required at school to “nap” in the afternoons, though she didn’t usually sleep during the rest period anymore.

For our first trip, we chose St. Louis, about a four-hour drive across Missouri from Kansas City. I think we stopped in Marshall, Missouri, first to visit my in-laws. It wasn’t a big vacation, just a long weekend, long enough to test whether our kids were ready for full-fledged adventures.

Husband and kids in front of the Gateway Arch, 1989

We did a lot over those few days in St. Louis. We went up in the Gateway Arch and visited the Museum of Western Expansion located at the Arch. We ate at the McDonald’s by the Arch, which was built on a replica of a steamboat (I understand that McDonald’s is no more, which is too bad because our kids loved it.). We went to the St. Louis Zoo, where our son made friends with a baby tamarind monkey. We went to Union Station and the Science Center. We probably did more, but those are the things I remember.

We were on the move from breakfast until dinner. We did all this over two or three days, spending our nights at some high-rise hotel, which I think was near Union Station.

After our first full day of activities, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. We had toured the entire zoo in the heat that afternoon. At the zoo, knowing that it was large and we would have to walk a lot, we rented a stroller for our daughter. But our son spent more time in the stroller than she did. She was a trouper, determined to prove she was not a baby anymore. She walked and walked and walked some more.

For dinner that night, she wanted spaghetti, so we ordered her a child-sized portion. The dinner came, and she started eating.

But soon her eyes drooped. Her eyelids fell shut, then opened, then fell again. Her head nodded.

My husband caught her just before she did a face-plant into her spaghetti. We moved her plate and laid her head on the table. She slept as the rest of us finished our meal. She slept as my husband carried her to the car and buckled her into her car seat. She slept as we drove to the hotel, as he carried her up to our room, and as I undressed her.

She slept for thirteen hours, from dinner straight through until breakfast time the next morning.

And then she was ready for another day.

She proved herself old enough for “big girl” vacations. And she’s never looked back.

What amusing anecdotes do you have from family vacations?

Fortieth Anniversary of a Speeding Ticket

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this year my husband and I celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We started dating in March 1977 and were married that November. We were apart for most of the summer of 1977, each working in different locations after our first year of law school. But he came to visit my hometown of Richland, Washington, where I had an internship with a local law firm, for a long weekend around the Fourth of July.

As he got off the plane in the desert, he said, “You poor kid—you grew up here?” And his opinion of Richland never improved.

When I had visited his hometown the month before, we’d toured some of western Missouri. So I returned the favor in July, and took him around my favorite haunts in Washington State. We waterskied on the Columbia River with my younger siblings. We took a day trip to Mount Rainier, where we hiked in snowfields—we shivered in our shorts, which we’d worn because of the heat in southeastern Washington around Richland; I’d forgotten how cold and gray the Cascades could be even in midsummer.

See the brown land between Richland (upper left) and Walla Walla (lower right). The Whitman Mission is near  Walla Walla.

And one day we drove to the Whitman Mission—the day trip of my childhood. My husband-to-be drove my parents’ Capri through rolling hills covered in brown wheat to the mission near the town of Walla Walla. On the way home, back through the wheat fields, he climbed a hill and sped down it. Not that fast, but above the speed limit.

Flashing lights and a siren behind him. A cop. A speeding ticket. A silent ride back to Richland.

My law-abiding fiancé was mortified. There he was, driving his future father-in-law’s car, and he got a ticket.

But my father was very good about it. He didn’t give my fiancé a hard time at all. Hubby-to-be paid the fine, and that was that.

At the Whitman Mission. If we’d been in a covered wagon, we would not have exceeded the speed limit.

Through the years, my father brought it up every so often, chuckling when he did so. But he didn’t mention it any more frequently than my husband did. All in all, they had a good relationship, despite this rocky beginning.

The only beef my father really had with my husband was that Dad wanted my husband to call him “Tom” instead of “Mr. Claudson.” My husband never relented.

That day trip in July 1977 was the last time I went to the Whitman Mission, though the site and Narcissa Whitman played an important role in my novel Lead Me Home. In later years, our family passed through Walla Walla on our way to ski at the Bluewood Resort in the Blue Mountains, but we never stopped at the mission. And my memories of that last visit are lost to me—all I remember of that day is the speeding ticket.

What memories do you have of traffic stops and tickets? Or of similar embarrassing events during your courtship?

The Bahamas: On Slavery, Service, Dependence, and Independence

I wrote last week about the recent vacation my husband and I took to the Bahamas. That post focused on the beauty of ocean and beach and on all the things we saw and did. Today I am writing about what I learned from Bahamian history and art. Because that nation’s history and art developed through experiences of slavery and colonial dependence, it seems a fitting topic for this week in which we in the U.S. celebrate our own independence.

At the Bahamian Historical Society Museum, we learned of the slaughter of the Lucayan native tribes by Europeans, beginning with Christopher Columbus. Some exhibits taught us about the English Eleutherians, who came to the Bahamas seeking religious freedom. Other exhibits showed the trade triangle—ships carried firearms and alcohol from England to Africa, then brought African slaves to the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Americas in inhuman conditions, then shipped molasses from sugar cane and other agricultural products grown in the New World back to England. Each of the three legs of this triangle earned a profit for the shipping companies, and each was in some way dependent on the free labor of African slaves.

Bahamian Historical Society Museum building

Slavery was abolished in Great Britain in 1833, and slaves became apprentices and then free by 1840 in Britain and in most of its colonies. Nevertheless, the Bahamian Historical Society Museum, which is housed in a former meeting place of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (something like our Daughters of the American Revolution), was clear about the racial stratification that remained prevalent in Bahamian society even after the abolition of slavery, just as such stratification remained a fact of life in the United States (and we had slavery for decades longer).

Moreover, the Bahamas only became an independent commonwealth in 1973. Before that, the islands were a colony of Great Britain. The Bahamian economy remains heavily dependent on tourism. Thus, even in independence, most Bahamians perform service roles in support of tourists like my husband and me.

Fading Mind, watercolor by Thierry Lamare

When we visited the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, we saw a lovely exhibit of watercolors by artist Thierry Lamare. Mr. Lamare’s still lives, portraits, and landscapes depicted traditional aspects of Bahamian life—the local life that we as tourists did not see. He painted elderly Bahamians in their homes and at their work. The culture he painted was beautiful, but it wasn’t the clean and polished facades presented to visitors. Other works in the Art Gallery took as their theme how a modern culture that originated in slavery and colonialism can express itself and its independence through art.

These experiences in the Historical Society Museum and the Art Gallery caused me to ask myself—what impact does a history of slavery and colonialism have on people once they become independent? My interactions with the Bahamians of today—the restaurant waiters, the hotel employees, the taxi drivers and tour guides—made me reflect on how all of them were dependent on pleasing me as their customer. How did that dependence mesh with their status as an independent people?

Once I thought about this question, I saw tensions between the struggle for independence and being dependent on foreign tourism all around me, from hotel and restaurant staffs, to the boat pilots and guides, to the craftspeople hawking their wares on the street. All these people had to provide good service to be successful. I expected them to serve me well—I was paying for the privilege.

Still, I was more conscious of being served on this vacation than I typically am in hotels and restaurants in the U.S. Receiving service became uncomfortable on occasion, even when the people serving were doing their jobs well and providing me what I expected.

To add to my introspection, while we were in the Bahamas, I read an essay in the current issue of Persimmon Tree by African-American writer, Dawn Downey, entitled “The Cleaning Women.” In this essay, Ms. Downey described her efforts to find a housecleaning service in the U.S. and reflected on her feelings as an African-American daughter and granddaughter of housekeepers. I compared her feelings about service and race with what I experienced as a white tourist in the Bahamas. We both felt discomfort and being served, but for different reasons, because of our backgrounds and our expectations.

Though I believed I should receive good service, this trip caused me to think about how people in service roles feel. I believe that it is important to treat everyone with courtesy and respect (though I admit to sometimes getting peeved at poor service and failing to follow through on my beliefs). I did not intend to—and did not want to—demean them, though service roles are often seen as demeaning. I simply saw them as doing their jobs—and usually doing them well.

In particular, I thought of the tour guide on our Island World Adventures excursion, an older Afro-Bahamian gentleman whose role seemed to be to keep the tourists on the boat happy with food and drinks and gear. When the time came, he outfitted us with snorkeling masks and fins, then stayed in the hot boat while we cavorted around the reef. As an inexperienced snorkeler and a poor swimmer, I panicked and thrashed back to the boat shortly after we started. This guide handed me a life preserver and showed me how to fit the mask properly so I could breathe without inhaling water. His calm voice turned my fright into fun, and I told him later that he had the most soothing voice I’d ever heard. In no way did I view him as “just” a service person. He made my experience what it was supposed to be and deserved credit for doing so (and a large tip for exemplary service).

Moreover, I have generally viewed myself as a service-provider in the jobs I have had—whether as an attorney, a Human Resources manager, a mediator, or a writer. In all these roles, I have had customers—just as the Bahamians had me as a customer. It has been my responsibility to please my customers within the confines of my expertise and ethics. Indeed, the concept of “servant leadership” has been important in my definition of success throughout my career.

Nevertheless, this trip taught me that it is important to be sensitive to how service is viewed through different lenses. Racial and cultural lenses can impact both service providers and service receivers. (Gender is another lens that makes a difference, but that is beyond the scope of this post.) For each individual and for every nation, the experiences of our past influence our present and our future.

When have you taken a vacation that caused you to reflect on cultural and historical diversity?

Retirement and Spontaneous Travel

I have been to all but three states in the U.S. I still need to get to the two Dakotas and to Alaska. Alaska, obviously, will need to be a specially planned trip. However, my husband and I recently considered taking a quick trip to the Dakotas. But at the pace we drive, it is a two-day journey from Kansas City to Rapid City (we’re not so rapid). We only had a week of free time, which meant if we drove we couldn’t see everything we wanted to see.

I looked into flying to Rapid City—over $1000/person for round trip tickets!

“We could go lots of places for a thousand dollars,” I said.

I typed “cheap flights” in the Google search engine, and up popped many possibilities, including several places in the Caribbean with beaches. I love beaches. We’d been to the Caribbean twice before—to St. Thomas and to Aruba—and enjoyed both trips.

Why not travel there again? I thought. We’re retired. We can go wherever we want.

We settled on the Bahamas—technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean, but close enough. We could fly round-trip to Nassau and get a great hotel room for six nights for not much more than flying to Rapid City. We might spend more on food and activities in the Bahamas than in Rapid City, but not that much more. And we’d experience another culture while staying in a hotel right on the beach. Did I mention I love beaches?

“All right, “ I said after I booked our reservation and clicked “submit” to charge our credit card. “Let’s go find our passports.”

My husband gave me a wild-eyed stare. “Mine might have expired.”

Now, mind you, he is an immigration attorney. He’s retired, but he still knows it is imperative to have a current passport to travel outside the U.S. Nevertheless, when he got out his passport, it had expired on May 6, just days before we booked our travel.

We turned to Google again. “Fast passport renewal,” he typed in. Google gave us several options, including “RushMyPassport.com.” Suffice it to say, the folks at RushMyPassport.com came through, for “only” $300. We had his new passport in hand by June 6 for a trip that began on June 15.

Whew! Disaster and embarrassment avoided. For a price.

After a two-hour weather delay in Atlanta, we arrived in Nassau late on the evening of June 15. We stayed at the British Colonial Hilton, which offered us a beautiful lobby, a small but lovely private beach, a room that looked out over the harbor (showcasing both beach and cruise ships), wonderful food, and a friendly staff.

Lobby at the British Colonial Hilton

View from our room. Note the beach straight ahead and the cruise ships docked to the right.

British Colonial Hilton beach at sunset

Fort Montagu from the harbor

As is our typical practice on vacation, we toured local military fortifications—in this case, Fort Charlotte and Fort Fincastle, and we viewed Fort Montagu on a harbor tour. The harbor tour also took us to the Sea Gardens (a protected underwater site). We went to the Bahamian Historical Society Museum, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, and the Pirates of Nassau Museum. At all these places, we learned about Bahamian history, from the Lucayan peoples to Christopher Columbus, to the Eleutherians (English Puritans), to the era of pirates such as Blackbeard, to the slave trade, to the abolition of slavery in 1834, through the independence movement that began after World War II.

Fort Charlotte, Nassau, Bahamas

A soldier's 1840 graffiti at Fort Charlotte. Much like the carvings on Independence Rock along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s.

Some of the guns at Fort Charlotte

Gun at Fort Fincastle. The red roof above the gun is the roof of the Hilton. See fantail of a cruise ship to the right.

And we took a day excursion with Island World Adventures. They boated us over choppy seas to an uninhabited island in the Exuma chain to snorkel, fed us a fantastic lunch, then took us on to another uninhabited island to feed iguanas before our return.

 

Island World Adventures excursion boat

Beach on uninhabited island near where we snorkeled and ate lunch

Husband feeding iguanas

As retirees, we had the flexibility to make a spontaneous trip to a beautiful locale that also taught us about a different culture. I hope we take more such trips in the future. But next time I’ll check my husband’s passport before we buy our tickets.

Have you ever taken a spontaneous trip to a distant destination?

Avoca Blankets: Evoking the Generations

avoca-img_20170202_085016In the summer of 2001, a few months before September 11, my daughter and I took a trip to Ireland. The trip was sponsored by her all-girls Catholic school. About ten mother/daughter pairs went, along with two teachers. The school had arranged several such trips over the years, but due to shenanigans on a previous girls-only trip, mothers were required to participate with their daughters the summer we went.

Some mothers participated for the mother/daughter bonding time, some to learn about history, some to see the scenery, some no doubt because of the Guinness. I went for most of these reasons, though not for the Guinness, which has never really appealed to me.

Most of the mothers and daughters probably had some trepidation about enforced togetherness for ten days. Each mother/daughter pair was required to share the hotel rooms in the various stops we made as we motored about Ireland. I was no exception on the trepidation issue—my sixteen-year-old daughter could be testy on occasion, and often took it out (mildly, but pointedly) on her mother.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip. There was some drama, some fatigue, some hurt feelings at various occasions for one and all. But overall, I had a delightful time, and I think my daughter did, too. Ireland is the only place outside the United States that I have visited where I felt I could really live happily. (Well, Canada is fine, but it’s too cold. And the little bit of England outside of London that I’ve seen would probably be all right. And Copenhagen came close.)

One of the places we stopped for a midday break was a touristy gift shop that sold Avoca wool products. I had never heard of Avoca before our trip, but their website now proclaims that Avoca is “an Irish family-run business that spans one of the world’s oldest surviving manufacturing companies and Ireland’s most exciting stores.”

My daughter and I didn’t buy anything in that gift shop, but a few days later when we were shopping in Dublin, we came across more Avoca products in another store. They had the most beautiful woven wool plaid throws. We each decided we needed one as a memento of the trip. I bought a blue plaid with a stripe of pale pink for myself, and my daughter selected a green plaid with a goldish stripe for herself. We squished them in our luggage for the return flight home.

I don’t like wool next to my skin—too scratchy—but that autumn I discovered my new throw was the perfect weight for snuggling under while I read or watched TV. Or a light extra layer on the bed when another blanket would be too heavy. For years now, during the winter months, it sits at the end of our bed, and I throw it over the comforter on chilly nights. I’ve had it dry-cleaned several times, but it still looks lovely, with the fringe only just starting to unravel.

m-at-xcountry-meet-w-avoca-blanket

Daughter at cross-country meet wrapped in Avoca blanket

My daughter took hers to cross-country meets during her high-school years. In college, it went with her to rowing regattas and on picnics and hikes. When she got her first apartment, it went on the back of her couch for reading and snoozing. She is now grown and owns her own home, and the Avoca throw is still on her couch. It has had a fair amount of heavy use over the years, so it’s shabbier than mine, but still looks pretty nice.

I was so taken with my Avoca throw in 2001 that when Christmas came around that year, I decided to see if I could buy more of them for Christmas gifts. I searched the web and found an Avoca source in the U.S. I think I ended up buying three more, but the only recipient I can remember for certain is that one of them was for my mother. I got her the same blue plaid design I had bought for myself.

My mother kept hers on the back of a couch to use as a cozy cover for reading also. When she went into assisted living in January 2013, the Avoca throw went with her. Unfortunately, the caregivers at the facility put the woolen throw in the laundry along with her other clothes. It felted and shrunk to half its size. When I saw it, I almost cried. After my mother died, my father gave her Avoca throw away with the rest of the things she’d had with her in assisted living—it wasn’t worth keeping.

So when I see my blue plaid Avoca throw at the end of my bed now, I remember a lovely trip with my daughter. I smile at my daughter’s growth from high-school student, through college and law school, and into independent adulthood—and of her green throw that has accompanied her at every step. I mourn my mother’s decline from cozy reader to Alzheimer’s patient and then her death, and the destruction of the Avoca throw that reflected her deterioration.

All these memories speak of continuity from one generation to the next, and they speak of the inevitable changes that occur through our lives. All these memories fill my heart because my daughter and I were taken with these pretty woolen blankets.

What do you own that symbolizes change for you?