When I was little the word vacation was synonymous with Cleveland.
Every summer we would pack up our Jeep Cherokee and drive several
hours to spend a week with my aunt and her husband. She would have a
list ready and my father would fix all of the things that had fallen
into disrepair since our last visit. My father and his sister were
very close, this arrangement seemed to suit them both rather well. We
kids thought it was great living in a tall, skinny house in the city.
Things we loved: My cousin’s room had a secret set of stairs that led
to the attic. There were tons of board games to play. Being there felt
strange and exotic. Things we hated: The angry chihuahuas that held
you hostage in a room until an adult could guide you past them, light
switches that needed to be flipped with wooden spoons, spaghetti sauce
made with beer that caused the little kids to be sick after they ate
it. Causing you to need the bathroom and in your haste forgetting to
use the wooden spoon to turn on the switch—resulting in a shock. It
was a vicious cycle.
The best part of the week was that we would end with a day spent at
Sea World. The mere mention of those words brought a thrilling sense
of joy; we girls would quiver and quake with delight. At Sea World
there were real seals to be fed, there were shows with penguins and
Shamu and most importantly—there were stuffies. Each of us was allowed
to get one souvenir to take home. There were so many choices and so
many gift shops to choose from. I would take my time at each one;
making a list, debating, thinking, deciding and then deciding again.
In some ways it was agony. But the long ride back to Pennsylvania was
always delicious; I loved having something soft sitting next to me.
One year it was a penguin, once it was a whale, then a walrus, and one
year an especially cute baby seal. Now I think of them fondly. The
secrets that I told them, the places I dragged them to, the condition
their fur must have been after I loved on them a little too fiercely.
(By the time I finally read “The Velveteen Rabbit” this all started to
make sense to me. Surely I must have been helping them become real.)
Sometimes at the end of the trip we picked up one of my little cousins
in order to bring them to my grandmother’s house for a week. I
remember thinking it wasn’t going to be much of a vacation for them,
nothing at home was as thrilling as Ohio. Such were the thoughts of my
childhood self. But once we would cross the border and start going up
and down the tall hills, my cousin would ask for the windows to be
rolled down. She couldn’t help herself and would squeal with pleasure.
She said riding those hills was like being on a roller coaster. All of
the roads in Ohio were flat and straight. (Meaning: boringly dull.) I
guess the beauty of a visit is all in the eye of the beholder.