I attended a private school in Louisville, and every year, we'd all come back from summer vacation and our teachers would ask, "Well, what did you do on your holiday?"
And while my family took its share of big whooper-doo vacations every few years, I would generally say something like, "I went to Knoxville" or "I went to Indianapolis" and enthusiastically talk about the children's museum there, or the place we stopped for soft-serve or something, and I'd sit back down.
These days, they call that sort of thing a "staycation" — going a couple of hours away, checking it out, looking around, coming back home. I had no idea we were doing something that was environmentally — and fiscally — responsible, possibly because it did not have a nifty term like "staycation" in the '70s to describe it.
Anyway, one of my classmates would inevitably get up and say something like, "Oh, we went to Florence. Again." Now, I was at this school on scholarship, and the idea that people jetted off to Italy or Switzerland was simply astounding to me. Who are you people? Who goes to Monte Carlo for a family vacation?
Anyway, one time I was talking about this trip my family took to Cincinnati, about two hours away, and I mentioned that I had gotten to eat at the best restaurant I had ever tried. You got to carry your own food tray, you got your own fountain Coke out of the machine, and you could get your own ice cream at the end of the meal. My classmates were all enthralled.
And then, of course, it was Jennifer's turn. With the air of the insufferably aggrieved, she told us about her parents forcing her to go to stupid Paris on the stupid Concorde and eating at some stupid place where they only spoke stupid French. I can't say that I was jealous of her experience. I was just curious as to why she seemed so unhappy.
So the rest of the day passes, and I get home, and the phone rings right as we are sitting down to eat. My mom got up and answered the phone, said hello, and her eyes got big. She said, "Hello. Why, yes, hello, it's nice to speak to you, too. Oh, she did? Oh, she was? Oh. I see. Well ... um ... Ponderosa Steakhouse. Yes. I'm sure she will. Goodbye."
And she sat back down, pressing a hand to her heart, laughing as hard as I've ever seen — to this day. And a few minutes later, the phone rang again. She had essentially the same conversation. The rest of the evening, we kept getting calls from the parents of these children of privilege, begging my mother to reveal the name of the stupendously grand four-star restaurant to which she had taken her daughter: the Ponderosa Steakhouse — for which we had a coupon.
Now, the reason this story comes back to me is because I think it's a good reminder in these tight economic times that vacations are what you make them. Pretty much anything is fun when you're part of a family that's in it together, doing the best you can, rich in laughter if poor of wallet, making memories and making the best of it all together.
Laura Lorson is the local All Things Considered host for Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence. She lives in Perry, Kan.