Rural Living

A Summer to Remember

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

Is it June already? Is school out? Is Mom making lists, while Dad consults the maps?

It’s time for summer vacation!

I make it a point to not take summer vacations. Fighting crowds and traffic and paying double what I’d pay for the same room in October or April does not appeal to me.

None of that used to make one bit of difference. I don’t have to dig too far back in my aging mind to remember fondly the Vacations of Summers Past.

Maps? Those were Daddy’s job. He would carefully plan a route and then write it down. The map and directions would then become Mom’s job. That’s where things often fell apart. I recall bouncing around in the backseat — the right side was mine, divided by pillows from “the far side,” which was my sister’s. Still today, my sister and I treat vacations differently. Her plans can include sleeping near the Lost River in a tent and riding a mule from campsite to campsite. Mine include down pillows and room service.

Maps puzzled Mom, but she remained quiet and pleasant during her navigation duties. Daddy? Not so much. Mom would have the maps turned every which way, sometimes upside down. She was small, and often the map was wider than her reach. I guess our favorite bit of family map lore is when Mom happily suggested, “Why don’t we swing by and visit Harry and Imogene? It’s only two inches out of our way!”

Daddy was also in charge of packing the car. To this day, I have never seen anyone so adept at car packing than my father. I like to think I have followed in his footsteps, but without a family of four to dress and feed, I will never know.

As I sit here at my desk, I gaze out on the screened porch, and there is Sanibel Sam. Sam is a 10-foot driftwood stick that looks exactly like some sort of benign sea monster. He rode home from Sanibel with us with his head sticking out one window of our bright-orange Hornet, and his tail out the other. It was difficult to enjoy the backseat ride with Sam, but heaven forbid anyone should complain. How Sam, or we, survived the 1,000-plus-mile ride, I do not know.

Once, Daddy decreed that we would no longer each have a suitcase for vacation. We’d pack everything in a giant old metal trunk our grandparents gave us. It was lined in bright-blue fabric.

It rained mightily during our drive to Okracoke Island. When we reached the Pony Island Motel, Daddy carried that huge trunk up the steps, bent under the weight like some pipe-smoking Sherpa. Imagine our dismay to discover, upon unpacking, that the trunk had leaked and every stitch of clothing was splotched with bright blue stains. Thank heavens tie-dye was just coming into fashion.

I hated Okracoke. There were sand fleas, and crabs, and a seasickness-inducing ferry ride to reach our destination. There was nothing whatsoever exciting for a 16-year-old to do. The family vacation lore from that trip is this: “Margo lounged in the room and ate Lifesavers for two weeks.” I was indeed addicted to wintergreen Lifesavers at the time. I haven’t had one in years, but don’t get me started.

We had some excitement about an hour after we checked in. Mom was putting groceries away, and discovered a couple of handguns and some cash hidden in the cupboard. Daddy, Mr. Career Lawman, was beside himself with fervor.

A few hours later, two scruffy dudes knocked on the door. Daddy, wearing his shoulder holster and gold badge (these items traveled everywhere with us), opened it.

“Forget something, fellas?”

“Uh, no … wrong room. Sorry.”

No one in our little family will ever forget “The Okracoke Hat.” It was a horrid thing, the type of fashion fathers adore, but that makes teenagers cringe and hide in the room, eating Lifesavers. We detested that hat. He wore it on every subsequent vacation. And, on every subsequent vacation, my sister or I would sneak it into the freezer while he was sleeping.

Thus began a family vacation tradition of freezing various people’s possessions overnight. Or worse. One morning, my sister and I awoke to discover our bathing suits were floating in a cooler filled with icy water.

For some reason, right this minute, I am sitting here at my computer and I cannot stop laughing.

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