I’M SURE EVERYONE has seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase gets locked in his attic. After he finds enough of his mother’s clothes to wrap up in he fumbled around the attic until he found the old eight mm films. He sat down and got comfortable while he reminisced and teared up about his childhood and early years of marriage.
Today I did the same thing only I wasn’t locked in my attic with teeth chattering. I realized recently my travel stories will begin to get really interesting because this is about the time we began to travel with our kids. We began grooming them to be weirdos like us at a very early age. To begin their abnormal life we didn’t have a television in the house until they were in middle school. This was before everyone had a computer in their homes so we had nothing to detract from our attention towards them.
When Mia was born we lived way up the Natchez Trace near Ratliff‘s Ferry. We had a huge garden with lots of chickens so we always had stuff to do that she loved to be a part of. We spent a lot of time together strolling around our 15 acres listening to the silence. Mia came to work with us every day where she rode around in a backpack while we were the growers at our greenhouses. I’m sure she got lots of face fulls of soil while we filled pots and planted flowers. When she was three years old we decided we had had enough of that drive seven days a week back-and-forth from the greenhouses to open doors, turn on heaters, and roll up the sides then to come back that afternoon to shut everything down to trap in the heat.
We loved our time out there with so much peace and quiet but we decided we wanted a house that had insulation and one we wouldn’t see light coming through the floorboards and walls. Someone bought the caboodle from us, the land, the house, the chickens, tractor, all of our furniture and even wanted our cat! They wanted it just like it was, we couldn’t pass on this opportunity. We moved into Madison about one mile from where I grew up and two miles from work. Max was born right about then. Now it was his turn to get into the backpack and ride around with us at the greenhouses, thus his career in horticulture began.
After living in a neighborhood we loved for a while we decided to purchase a little land so we could get away when we wanted to.
For those 10 years we spent every Wednesday and Saturday night out there. I think they were probably the only kids showing up at Saint Andrews who had just woken up in a teepee lit by candles and kerosene lamps. We planted trees and other plants every chance we got with the kids’ help. It really made it fun. We fished and swam in the lake that the land was a part of. They grew up thinking all of this was normal until later when they figured out most kids were watching TV and going to Disneyland and playing soccer. Not that we felt like there was anything wrong with those things, we just didn’t want to spend most of our time getting to and fro from weekend sports. We believed our time was better spent at our own place to play.
It was around this time that every young couple with kids had to have a Suburban to haul kids and carpool. We had one and enjoyed some long road trips in the beast. Those trips I’ll write about but I wanted to introduce Mia and Max to you because they will be involved on some pretty wild journeys that I’ll be musing about in later articles.
It was time to trade in the Suburban and I told Mimi what our budget would be after the trade-in. I told her she could get anything she wanted as long as we stayed in that budget. I should’ve never said that. I came home one day and her sparkling eyes were extra sparkling as she was excited to tell me that she found what she wanted. Mimi found a 1966, 21 window Volkswagen van that could carry more kids than any suburban. I didn’t have to look at her very long to know she was serious and there would be no talking her out of it. She had the bright yellow van shipped to the nursery from California. We had so much fun getting around in that van. Anyone who has been hooked by the Volkswagen bug knows it comes with its ups and downs, mostly ups.
THE KIDS GREW up in a great house and some land that was 10 minutes away. Although it felt like we were on another planet with a permanent base camp set up, packing to go out there twice a week was no big deal. They had swings hanging from trees where they could do their homework while we fussed over dinner on the fire. They helped us build the 30’ x 30’ wooden deck the teepee rested on and they helped us put up the poles and wrap the skin on the teepee twice a year. They might have learned some curse words while the poles were being erected. If you can imagine 35 foot tall poles that have to be placed precisely to form the circle, I think a curse word might have squeaked out as we tried our best to make it fun.
They were taught at a early age that Home Depot and Lowe’s and Walmart were the enemy of the nursery man. They didn’t step foot in Walmart until they were in high school and I can assure you it wasn’t with me. We have found a way to live our lives without that place. We do go to Lowe’s when we need building materials for one of our crazy projects. We have a blast when we go to Lowe’s for lumber and nails and concrete and hinges because it’s always for a project we are excited about like a chicken pen or a deck for a teepee or a fence around the garden or wooden sides on one of our work trucks. They are very good at planning and building these sorts of things and that makes it really fun to build these things as a family. I think it has made them appreciate things we see every day that may otherwise go unnoticed. We still build things together when we find time to get together. We are not a family who likes to sit around not doing something.
I HAVE NO IDEA IF the way we raised Max and Mia is right or wrong but we figured we would get one chance to do it so we may as well have fun. My point in telling about how they were raised is that it leads to great adventures in the mountains and caves here in America and other countries. We weren’t afraid to get into the back wilderness country because we felt like there wasn’t anything we couldn’t at least try. My favorite part about their nontraditional upbringing we chose to inflict upon them has led to two very confident siblings who are carrying on with this adventurous spirit.
Mia lives in South Carolina where she runs, mountain bikes and camps every chance that comes her way. She moved off to a place where she knew not one person and has made a wonderful life for herself and is completely doing it without our help. Max rode with it by first earning his Eagle Scout award and by always having his camping stuff in his vehicle in case a chance arises. He is learning the horticulture trade and can weld and build anything he wants to. I couldn’t be more proud of those two.
As I was doing my Chevy Chase thing in the attic today I realized their childhood was a lot like mine and Mimi’s growing up in the country, I think we can all look back and agree that that was just about as fun as it could get. I’m glad we made the most of it while we could, doing it together is over now and Mimi and I love the empty nest stage, in fact we are professional empty nesters. We did the best we could, now it’s up to our kids to use those memories however they choose.