JoMC 711 – Writing for Digital Media

September 17, 2006

The Family Vacation Revisited

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 10:46 pm

Roots, Realities and Remembrances of the Family Vacation 

It began at a family dinner several months ago.  As my sisters and I reminisced about the vacations we took as a family, each brought slightly different memories to the table.  Out of that conversation grew a plan to revisit some of those places.

The Trip Can be as Memorable as the Destination

Forty years ago when we left for vacation in the dark hours of the morning, my father said, “Here we go, off in a cloud of manure!”  Keeping in that tradition we uttered the phrase as we began our eight day trek.  And so, in early August my two sisters, my daughter and I packed up the rental car and left Baltimore behind. 

During the first two days of our journey we talked excitedly, sharing memories of the monotonous drive rather than the memories of our destination.  We recalled driving endlessly in a car without air conditioning or seat belts, on two-lane highways, fighting with one or the other sister at least half the time.

Revisiting My Mother’s Home

On the second day we arrived at our first destination: Columbia City, IN, our mother’s hometown.  We found her home without trouble and delighted in the fact that some things were the same:

  • the original red painted bricks
  • the front porch swing
  • ornately carved front door  

But some things were different

  • the paint was peeling
  • the stone front porch was a wooden deck
  • the wisteria vines by the side porch were gone 

The most startling thing of all, though, was the size of the house.  In our memories it had been a beautiful huge, plantation-like home but, in reality, it was quite small. 

Having satisfied our curiosity about the homestead, we spent the next day researching our roots.  We visited Eberhard Church, the country church that stands on land our great-grandfather donated.  After we recorded dates and names from tombstones in the cemetery, we explored records at both the local courthouse and the genealogy library in nearby Fort Wayne.  Although we found out a lot about the town and relatives we never knew, the one thing we could not find was the wedding date for my maternal grandmother.

Our disappointment at Lake Shafer

It was time to move on to our next destination, Lake Shafer.  All three of us remembered a massive lake, a huge cabin, and a wonderful bandstand area where we enthusiastically listened to rock and roll at night.There wasn’t much that resembled what we remembered.  The beach area was about the size of a tennis court.  The owners of this area had transformed the rest of the beach to accommodate every conceivable water and amusement ride they could fit into the allotted space. 

After much searching, we found the cabin of our childhood.  Once again, what we remembered as a fairly large, well-kept cabin was, in fact, tiny, dilapidated, and dwarfed by several other cabins.  Trash, junk and tree limbs littered the grounds.  We were ready to leave Lake Shafer because of our disappointment in how it had been neglected.

My Aunt Is Living History

Visiting our aunt in Chicago was the culmination and highlight of our trip.  Until Chicago our trip involved rediscovering places and things, but this stop gave us the opportunity to talk with the 84 year old matriarch of the family.  Facts on a page were no comparison to being able to interact with someone who knew the people we were researching.  She told us anecdotes about our grandmother and mother and corrected some misconceptions.  We spent two evenings together going over our long list of questions and our aunt willingly listened as we recalled our travels.  We left with a sense of satisfaction at reconnecting with such a vital part of our family.

Memories Rarely match Reality 

The ride home was much quieter than it had been on the way out.  We realized that our memories rarely matched reality.  We had accomplished our goal: to retrace our family vacation, but had not been prepared for the conflicting emotions experienced over the course of our trip: anticipation, disappointment, joy, sadness, and satisfaction.  Even though we couldn’t ignore the realities we encountered on this journey, our positive childhood memories remain intact.

September 3, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 7:46 pm

Audience for this travelogue: family and friends, possibly genealogists 

It began at a family dinner several months ago when my sisters and I reminisced about the vacations we took as a family, each of us remembering things a little differently.  Out of that conversation grew a plan to revisit the places where we vacationed as a family.  

My two sisters, daughter and I rented a car and began an eight-day trek to the Midwest from Baltimore in early August.  We talked excitedly as we drove the first two days.  Memories came spilling out of our minds and mouths about the ride itself, rather than the destination.  Forty years ago when we left in the dark hours of the morning, my father said, “Here we go, off in a cloud of manure!”  None of us ever thought to ask him why he said such a thing, especially since he never lived on a farm.  We remembered driving endlessly in a car without air conditioning or seat belts, on two-lane highways, fighting at least half the time with one or the other sister.

On the second day we arrived at our first important destination: our mother’s hometown, Columbia City, IN.  Immediately we searched for her home.  Since the town isn’t very large, we found it without trouble.  The house still had the original red painted bricks, but the paint was now peeling and the wonderful cement and stone front porch had been replaced with a wooden deck.  The massive wisteria vines that wrapped around my mother’s side porch were gone also.   We delighted in the fact that the porch swing was still intact, however, and the beautiful front door was as we remembered it.  The most startling thing of all, though, was the size of the house.  In our memories it had been a beautiful huge, plantation-like home; in reality it was quite small.  We took pictures and continued our drive through town, stopping at the church (where all three of us were baptized) and another family home.

The second day in Columbia City was filled with genealogical-type errands: visiting the country church that stands on land our great-grandfather donated and where many relatives are buried, exploring records at the local courthouse, and driving to nearby Fort Wayne to the second largest genealogical library in the country.  That day was much more fruitful and fulfilling.  We spent time talking with the pastor at the church, getting dates and names from tombstones in the cemetery, and looking up relatives at the Columbia City courthouse and the Fort Wayne library.  We found out a lot about the town and relatives we never knew.  The one thing we specifically wanted to find was the wedding date for my maternal grandmother, which we never found.

After two days in Columbia City, we journeyed to our next destination, Lake Shafer.  As children our family and my aunt’s family would rent a cabin at Lake Shafer for a week.  All three of us remembered a massive lake, a huge cabin, and a wonderful bandstand area where we enthusiastically listened to rock and roll at night.

There wasn’t much that resembled what we remembered.  The beach area was about 7 yards long by 5 yards deep, much smaller than we imagined.  The owners of this area had transformed the rest of the beach to accommodate every conceivable water and amusement ride they could fit into the allotted space.

By far the most disappointing part of the trip was finding the cabin we had occupied as children.  Once again, what we remembered as a fairly large, well-kept cabin was, in fact, tiny, dilapidated, and engulfed by several other cabins.  There was trash, junk and tree limbs scattered throughout the grounds.

We soon forgot our disappointment when we ventured to Chicago to see our aunt.  This turned out to be not only the culmination, but also the highlight of our trip.  We spent two evenings together going over our long list of questions and she willingly listened as we recalled our travels.

It was much quieter on the ride home than it had been on the way out.  We were tired and absorbed in our thoughts.  I’m sure you can “go home again,” but we were not prepared for what we saw, nor for what we felt.  We experienced so many emotions over the course of our trip: anticipation, disappointment, joy, sadness, and satisfaction, yet we regret none of it.

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