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.