margaretThis part of summer always makes me a bit wistful.

It is still hot as the hinges and humid enough to make even the straightest hair frizzy. At the same time, ads for back to school supplies are everywhere, and sales abound for beach chairs, plastic floats and sunscreen. There is a clear sense of one season winding down and another bearing down upon us.

As a freckled-faced girl with sun sensitive eyes, summer has never been my favorite season, but I have always loved its more relaxed pace. No after-dinner fire drills to get ready for bed on school nights. No rising before dawn to get to school or work on time. The whole atmosphere is slow, even languid at times.

Early August brings back all sorts of memories of summers past — those from my own childhood and later those with my own little family.

My childhood family took beach vacations with our grandparents to different North Carolina beaches. I caught my first fish at Atlantic Beach with a plastic toy rod. I was the only person who caught anything on our section of the beach that day, and I was so excited with my teeny-tiny pompano that I ran with him, still wiggling, into our house and flung his wet little self onto the bed where my grandparents were napping. 

When my sister and I were a little older, our parents took us to conventions of the 30th Infantry Division, in which our father had served as a medic during World War II. In Chicago, I got lost walking along Lake Michigan, which caused a major family commotion. In New York, our family of 4 had 10 suitcases to for the bellman to take up to our hotel rooms. Our father was none too pleased about this, since only one of them belonged to him. By the time we went to San Francisco, we went to wine tastings in Napa Valley, but that was after my sister and I had to spring for new sweaters. We apparently believed we were heading to southern California and packed only sundresses.

The Dickson’s vacations were largely at the beach as well, in an un-airconditioned cottage that had survived Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and every storm since, including the current benchmark hurricane, Fran, which laid waste to much of both Fayetteville and the southern North Carolina coast. The Precious Jewels got tan as berries, sunscreen notwithstanding, and learned to ride the waves, boat and fish — all of which they still enjoy. Generally accompanied by our faithful chocolate Lab, named what else but Brownie. Their other choice had been Lassie, but the parents vetoed that one. 

 “Real vacations” were few and far between, but there were a few. We drove to New England one summer when one Precious Jewel had 350 stitches in his arm, and the dressing took an hour to change every morning. I would not recommend a long road trip under those circumstances to anyone. We took a family trip to the Caribbean, where the Precious Jewels rode go carts and horses and learned to swing on a trapeze. 

We took an Alaskan cruise one summer, and I still marvel at the sheer magnitude of everything. That trip involved a flight so long that one Precious Jewel announced he could not stand sitting any more and that he was “getting out.” Two parents and a flight attendant eventually disabused him of that thought. 

We also visited the Big Apple one fall, where the boys first got acquainted with the concept of a restaurant bathroom attendant. They returned to the dinner table smelling like they had been sprayed with a knock off of Chanel # 5 and bearing a business card for something called the “Royal Flush.”

Travel, whether to a well-loved North Carolina beach or to destinations less known, gets us out of our ordinary lives and daily schedules and makes everything seem a bit more special. It informs us about the rest of the world whether that means fiddler crabs, sea turtles and tide tables or Denali, trapezes and bathroom attendants. Travel enlarges our worldview and lets us know that while not everyone lives the way we do, that is just fine. 

The best part of travel, though, may be coming home. We are again on our own turf with our own belongings. Everything is familiar, from our favorite sofa pillows to the little fluffs of dog hair stuck to the rug. There is the magazine we meant to read before we left and the stack of accumulated mail, which just might hold something really exciting. 

Most of all there is our safest and most private place, our own bed with its peculiar lumps and bumps and sweet spots. Travel in all forms is a great gift, and to me, among the most meaningful and memorable experiences we can provide for our children.

But at the end of the trip, there really is nothing quite
like home. 

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