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Souvenir Memories

With another vacation season just a suitcase away, I am remembering a story my friend, the late Jodie Hall of Grayson County, often recalled of his family’s vacation visit to the Grand Canyon.

As they stood at an overlook on the canyon rim, under the streaming shadow of a large American flag, another family arrived.

They might have been subjects in a Norman Rockwell painting: two parents, young children, and an elderly little woman carrying a large purse and wearing a scarf pulled tight across her head and tied under her chin.

The parents stood for a while, almost spellbound by the view. Then the man turned to the older lady and asked, “Mom, what do you think of it?”

She looked around for a moment, then shot back,
“The wind sure is a flappin’ that flag, ain’t it.”

Over the years, I have come to realize that great
vacations are not measured so much in destinations and dollars as in souvenir memories of small moments.

Our family visited the Grand Canyon once, but my fondest recollection of that trip is of the night we took a large room in a Best Western Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico. My wife, Jackie, our four children, and I slept in the same room.

We laughed more as a family that night than we had in months. It sounded like a half-dozen 10-year-olds at a sleepover—who’d sugared up on ice cream and cupcakes just before bedtime.

Rushing to more tourist stops the next morning, two of the most enduring images I saw from the van window were a grove of quaking aspens shimmering in the sun and a cowboy on horseback moving a herd of cattle on
the open range.

John Steinbeck touched a nerve in his early 1960s
classic, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, when he declared that the interstate highways then being built across the country would make it possible “to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

But for today’s highway travelers who take time to look, there is still much to see. Interstates and bypasses have literally cut through the back yards and back pastures of America, and now offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a countryside that may have been hidden from Steinbeck and his pet poodle half a century ago.

The novelist could scarcely have dreamed that today it would be video games, DVD players, iPhones, iPads, Nooks, Kindles, and an arsenal of other digital distractions that would make the view from the car window virtually obsolete.

Given a few vacations to do over, I would enjoy our children more and worry less about where we were going and what time we’d arrive. Something else Steinbeck said keeps coming back to me:

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

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