You know how there are certain places, smells, or songs that just take you back? For me, these things can give me this feeling inside your chest that is really hard to explain. It’s a nostalgic feeling, I suppose.
My dad’s little town in central Virginia–and the surrounding area–is one of those things.
Perhaps it was because it had been four years since I’d been there.
Maybe it was because it was my first time back as a married mom.
But there was just something about driving the streets of that little town, and those back-country roads, that sent waves of memories washing over me.
Growing up, my brothers and I spent eight weeks–practically the entirety–of every summer living with my dad in this town. Sometimes, we didn’t particularly like the arrangement. We were robbed of the opportunity to spend the summers with our friends, at home, like “normal” kids did. It wasn’t always fun. There was drama. There was boredom. We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper.
Looking back, however, I’ve come to realize that we were given so much more than was “taken away.”
In addition to being with my dad, those weeks gave us the opportunity to see and know my grandparents, despite the fact that they lived eight hours away from us. Most kids who live in a different state than their grandparents are lucky to see them for a week (or maybe even just a weekend) each year. We had built-in playmates in a kinda/sorta stepbrother, as well as my four cousins. And other extended family members.
There were summers where we spent nearly every waking minute in my grandparents’ pool. All of us cousins–swimming, making up games, fighting, laughing, splashing. I’d venture to say a bond was formed among all of us that simply cannot ever be broken. It’s sort of sad now that we don’t see each other. The relationships are different, but the shared experiences of those summers will forever keep us connected.
One of my cousins, Sabrina, was usually the closest to me–we are only five months apart in age–and so we were often inseparable. When we were eight, we permed our hair together (oh lord, that was a mistake). We used to plan “movie nights” for which we would go to the grocery store, buy every kind of junk food imaginable, and park ourselves in her basement watching videos until we ate so much we had stomachaches. When we were 15, her uncle taught us how to drive–late at night, on a dark dirt road, the windows down and the music blaring, drowning out the sounds of the crickets.
Still, so much fun was had as a big group. I have vivid memories of spending days at the river, letting the current carry us down until we’d get out and walk back upstream to the car. We took hikes that led up to a natural pool that we affectionately called “The Green Lagoon” after watching the movie The Blue Lagoon several times one summer. We took late-night runs to 7-Eleven for slurpies. We spent the 4th of Julys out in fields where our dads, uncles, and some of their friends set off (what were probably illegal) fireworks. We had “The Summer of Johnny,” during which we all got a huge kick out of a drunk old man neighbor who used to visit my aunt and uncle’s house unannounced, looking for liquor (long story). When we were lucky, my uncle would take us all to the lake to go tubing on his boat. Sometimes, we’d go catfishing in the pitch dark of the night.
Oh, and we cannot ever forget the epic group trips to Virginia Beach. We’d caravan in several cars the 2+ hour drive, making games of passing snacks between moving cars (awesomely safe, I know) and making faces and motions (some appropriate, others probably notsomuch) at each other as we passed. One particular summer, my uncle (no longer my uncle, by the way) made reservations for a huge group of us–probably 15+ people?–at a campground near the beach. He had reserved a cabin, and we were all really excited about it. Imagine how that excitement died when we got there and realized that the cabin could sleep MAYBE six people. And that the cabin was like 100 degrees inside. I am not even exaggerating when I say that there are some of us who ended up sleeping on air mattresses on the lawn. And in cars. Or in the back of a pick-up. The people who were camping nearby us probably thought we were the freaking Clampetts. But I look back on that now and think it is absolutely hilarious.
We went to pig roasts.
We regularly had barbecues at my grandparents’ house, by the pool–even if we had already spent the entire day at the pool already.
If we begged enough, my uncle and dad would take us all out to Golden Corral (as you can tell, we had super high dining standards).
Looking back at all of that, I’d actually say it was the perfect way to spend my summer vacations.
Was it actually perfect? No. For a lot of reasons that I won’t get into. But the bottom line is that when I go back to Virginia, when I go back to that sleepy, slow little town, I am overwhelmed by the good memories–not assaulted by the bad.
So you can imagine, then, how I felt when Michael, Nora and I walked down my dad’s driveway, took a few turns, and ended up back at the elementary school. The one where my cousins and I used to go to play on the playground, and run around the hills. Where my brothers and I went to play baseball. Where I remember watching countless recreational adult softball games with my dad and some of his cousins.
Being an adult now, and having adult perspective–work, money, responsibility–I’d do just about anything to rewind time and live one of those summers (at least the fun parts) all over again.
Life was just so… simple.
AboutI'm Heather. I just turned 30. I'm happily married, and mommy to the most beautiful little girl in the world (what, you're saying I could be biased?). Determined DIYer and homeowner. Sarcastic. A perfectionist. A bleeding-heart liberal. Frugal. Loves a little dog way more than many humans. Loves food, hates exercise (it's an ongoing battle). A loyal football fan. I love to laugh. Value family and friends above all else. Vie to be a world traveler.
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