The summer before my freshman year in high school my mother sent me on a road trip with my father. An electrician with the union, he traveled wherever there was work. That’s why his house was a camper. He and my stepmother loved the lifestyle. I did not.
Still, it was a coming of age sort of trip.
One that landed me in Texas, taking off in a rickety plane with a friend of my dad’s. We used acres of fields lying fallow as a runway. The plane’s wings dipped into the sunset and I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t know everything. After we landed, when no one was looking, I picked a dry piece of grass from one of the fields. I carefully closed my favorite book around it and when I got home, to the desert, I taped it to my wall. Every time I looked at it I thought of cotton-candy pink skies and sun-soaked earth.
It was a journey that put me on a dock on a lake in Mississippi, with trees swaying and early morning haze rising off the water.
One night at dinner, neighboring nomads pointed out a large skunk under our picnic table. My father looked me square in the eyes and said, “Do. Not. Move.” So, naturally, I ran screaming.
Sitting in the dusky yard of an old house in Illinois experiencing fireflies for the first time. A young woman with the exuberance of a toddler– I was all smiles and pure joy.
I didn’t say much on that trip because I was 14 and thought my dad was lame and had my Walkman blasting in my ears for a good portion. I do however remember what I experienced. Scenes play in my mind with clarity and detail, some more poignant than others.
I mean, Dollywood was fun, but it’s not like I was dying to see where Dolly Parton was born. We did see the house Amelia Earhart was born in; I’ll never forget that. The Grand Ole Opry, the Sears Tower, endless Kansas cornfields– those are tucked away too.
And the 4th of July. We spent that in Tennessee with some relatives. When the sun went down and the heat settled into the asphalt we went to a bridge where members of my family lit what should have been– probably was– an illegal amount of fireworks and dropped them into a bucket of gasoline. Stupid. (These were the same family members who took my dad to the drag races they raced in every weekend and after the final run, my father stood at the starting line with his hand shielding his eyes, looking toward the opposite end. “Does this drag strip go uphill?” he wanted to know. One third-cousin punched another in the arm and said, “Ya’ll didn’t think he’d notice.” I swear I heard the theme song from Deliverance).
I love Independence Day. It’s one of my favorite holidays. That trip was the beginning of my fondness for the celebration. I traveled so many miles and crossed so many state lines. I gained an understanding of what it meant to be patriotic– to see parts of our country that were outside of my backyard. The old barns and fields of grass and farm house porches draped with red, white and blue bunting. Cattle ranches, agriculture, steel and glass skyscrapers. Railroad tracks for days and the people.
A tapestry. Maybe cliche and probably corny, but true.
Parents, your brooding tweens and teens will one day be adults who look back fondly on the summer trips you so painstakingly planed. I promise. Kids, cut your parents some slack and make sure you keep a journal of your summer months. Years from now, you’ll be able to share those pages with your own kids.
Have a safe and wonderful 4th of July. Create beautiful memories.
Click HERE for a list of Coachella Valley fireworks shows.