Vacations have always been a prominent source of my most treasured childhood memories. More often than not, I remember the little details more than the destinations. I don’t remember many of the cities we visited, the events we attended, or the sights we saw. But I remember dining on ham sandwiches from an old Coleman cooler in a hotel room. And I remember playing cards with my family in the front half of a two-room, blue tent during a rainstorm. And I remember singing with my siblings in the back seat of the wood-paneled station wagon. Vacations were a celebration of family.
But about a decade ago, my mom mentioned her desire for our entire family to visit Maine together. Thus began the logistical planning of getting 11 of us from Indiana to Maine. But those plans were soon halted by my brother’s deployment to Bosnia. Fast forward a year or two, and the planning began anew with his return home. But alas, deployment waved its ugly flag a second time, and off he went to Afghanistan, and our vacation itinerary took a backseat yet again.
This time, Michael didn’t make it home. And the Maine thing didn’t happen. And as much as we wanted to go, planning a trip without him felt somehow traitorous. How could we pick up where we left off, as though nothing had changed, when absolutely nothing would ever be the same again?
Last year was our sixth year without him, and I began to feel this pull that I can’t explain. I felt compelled to head east as fast as I could. By this time, we’d added two kids to the mix, along with assorted sports schedules and summer activity constraints. I won’t bore you with the details, but the short-cut version is this: six of us just returned from Maine!
To say that the trip was healing would be a significant understatement, and I’m not sure that I can adequately explain why, but I’ll try.
For starters, the home we rented in that tiny town on the bay proudly boasted an American flag on the wall of the family room, along with the nautical version of a red, white and denim décor. I can raise my own flag any day, but there’s something about having another do it that is comforting.
Just outside of town, we found ourselves ushered to the shore along the “Gold Star Memorial Highway.” I don’t know that a road by any other name would have been as appropriate. And then one night, as we were sitting on the porch, we heard the distinct tones of a bagpipe, playing its woeful song. I don’t know where it was coming from, but it reminded me of the bagpipes from Michael’s funeral.
On July 4th, we watched fireworks flare above the bay, highlighting the American flags hoisted on the ships below. And then one night, we were exploring the rocky shore when an old fire truck arrived and parked alongside the road. Before the night was over, we’d swapped tales with the owner, who had purchased the truck just because he’d always wanted one. He took us for a ride around the point, letting the siren scream for the children we passed. This was significant… because my brother was a firefighter.
The list goes on. Perhaps we were just ready to embrace this opportunity after all these years. Or maybe we were looking for ways to connect with each other and with Michael’s memory. Whatever the reason, I am feeling abundantly blessed at the moment. The Maine thing for me was cathartic…a hug from heaven. If you’re wondering whether you should resume anything you’ve put aside, I think the main thing for you is… to do it when (and if) it feels right to you.