JoMC 711 – Writing for Digital Media

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.

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Cindy…I enjoyed your travelogue. It’s too late for me to feel all constructively critical…we have nearly a week to do that.

    Your article brought memories of our ’60s-era family vacations to mind. We always started out before sunrise…dad ready to take the wheel of his tuned up vehicle…mom well-prepared with everything organized and packed…my sister and brother and I bleary-eyed and mostly still asleep. We’d pile in and fasten our seatbelts (my father, an engineer, installed them himself for our protection…although the cigarette smoking didn’t end for some 35 more years) and we’d fall back asleep until hunger and the uncomfortable heat of a sunny summer morning roused us. I sure miss the chocolate chip cookies at Howard-Johnson’s…

    I think it’d be interesting to take a road trip with my sister (possibly my brother, if he manages to put his crumbled life back together)…but highly unlikely. She’s six years older than I am and we have an amazingly different set of childhood memories.

    A few years back she visited our second house in El Paso and brought back pictures from inside and out. I drove by in ’99 and, sure enough, it is tiny. My partner indulges me in such efforts to find some childhood closure (moving around meant that I seldom felt closure for a life lived in a place). We tracked down my mid-60s NJ house and, despite thinking I was prepared, was again stunned at the smallness of it all—including the lake and “beach” across the street. It seems very much like your summer lake, although mine lost many of its attractions in favor of parking lots and such.

    Comment by rebrad — September 4, 2006 @ 5:52 am |Reply

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