Except for camping trips, my family never went on vacations. I had never been more than five hours away from my home, unless you count a trip on a plane to Florida when I was six. But I don't remember that trip.
I remember the Memphis trip.
Twenty hours of my mother and stepfather in the front seat. My little brothers bickering in the Way Back. My stepfather shouting back at us that he would pull over if we made him mad. The heat building in the car as we traveled south. All of us begging my stepfather to turn on the air conditioner.
Not until we crossed the state line into Tennessee, something I still don't understand. I mean, he'd rented the station wagon with air conditioning specifically so we could, you know, turn on the air conditioning when it got hot. Supposedly, we'd get crappier gas mileage if the air was on. And this was a man who was tight with his pennies. So tight, that he made a point of buying ice cream that nobody liked because then nobody would eat it. Get it?
Memphis was a wonder to me.
The sun. The heat. The Mississippi River rolling by at the edge of what seemed a sparkling city. We went out for dinner, which we rarely did at home. Ate foods I'd never heard of like barbecued pork sandwiches and crawdads. Played tourist at the Peabody Hotel and on a riverboat cruise.
My family held it together as well as we could. On our best behavior for the relatives. Reining in our usual dysfunction until we couldn't manage it anymore. And then my brothers bickered and fought. My mother yelled at them. I walked out of the room whenever my stepfather walked into it.
I hated him and I didn't even know how much until that vacation. Maybe it was the twenty hour car ride and the close proximity to each other. Seeing the contrast between how we lived with how our relatives were living.
And isn't that what travel does? Opens your eyes up to new places and people. Introduces you to different ways of living.
I celebrated my fifteenth birthday in a lovely home in Memphis. There's a picture of me standing in front of my cake, something chocolaty that my aunt baked for me, my stepfather looking on. I'm wearing a bathing suit because we'd just gone swimming. And my stepfather is looking on because he was always looking on.
Sometimes when you travel away from home, you are finally able to see it for what it is.
A few weeks after we left Memphis, my mother and stepfather divorced. I never saw him again.
All and all it was a good vacation.