In January 2001, after completing my student teaching, and wondering what sort of career move to make mid-semester, my sister Pam encouraged me to go to Europe. As in, make no career move. Just enjoy a semester of fun. My friend Jackie was going to school in England at the time, and my friend Anne was studying in Madrid. I could visit both friends, and wander around some on my own.
Pam told me that I probably wouldn’t have as much opportunity to take such trips later in life. I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would abandon adventure at any point. Now I understand, of course, that once employers dictate the quantity of vacation days you have a year, and cajoling relatives to look after a two-year-old is not exactly like asking someone to water your jade plant, it gets tricky.
As I write this, I am about to embark on what feels like my first big endeavor since mommahood. This journey starts on Friday. I fly to New York to see my nephew in Vermont. We have a whirlwind two days of the Green River Music festival and enjoying the great outdoors before I fly home at 6 AM on Monday morning.
My nephew is an adult now. He has long hippie hair and fishes regularly, playing the part of a transient New Englander and Orvis intern for the summer before finishing his final semester of college. I was his nanny for his first summer of life and this weekend we’ll be toasting the Wood Brothers and Milk Carton Kids.
When I return from that abondanza of joy, I’ll spend the week at my childhood home. This home, nestled on over 10 acres of northeastern Wisconsin land, will serve as basecamp for my geneology project. Every day I’ll visit area cemetaries, courthouses and historical societies to learn about my Polish and Dutch roots. And I cannot wait.
My daily itinerary will include a road trip, a hot cup of coffee and, hopefully, long afternoons spent with relatives to capture the oral history of my people. All the details I need to fill in the cracks between the census documents and marriage certificates. On my own, with my own agenda, and ample folk music in the CD player of my rusty Montero to keep me going.
I did go to Europe that year after finishing college. A train strike gave me a day in a coastal French town to see a Marc Chagall exhibit. I got sunburned while fishing off the southern coast of Spain with locals. I called the ambulance in Rome when Jackie twisted her ankle emerging from the train. After a lengthy ER visit, we discovered the medical care was free, and celebrated with a fancy dinner. We stayed at the Mario & Luigi hostel there, and the Kabul hostel in Barcelona. It was divine.
And when I came back, I taught at a science museum in Milwaukee then lived at a ranch in Colorado all summer. Little did I know I’d be singing Van Morrison tunes as I reminisce about a season of nonstop travel and fun…and that I could easily resurrect that whimsy with a plane ticket and using some of those vacation days…
These are the days of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now
There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now
– Van Morrison