Summer Nights

Just got back into town after 5 days in Sonoma where I think I surpassed my personal best in laziness. I made sloths look like speed freaks. Hung out with my sister and her family and on the drive home, I thought about all the family summer vacations we took when we were kids. There were some crazy times but as with most things from childhood, I remember them fondly.

Some highlights:

  • My father bought a tent for us to go camping our first summer in America but didn’t realize we also needed sleeping bags (there’s no camping in Viet Nam). So all eight of us crammed into it at night, lying every which way on the ground with no padding or covers, waking up with indentations of rocks on the side of our faces or twigs jammed into our backs. We couldn’t understand the allure of this American pastime.
  • We were once at a site with shower facilities but no hot water. We kids would sit outside and laugh at the shrieks from people taking cold showers inside. Until it was our turn.
  • My aunt walked into a gift shop on Virginia Beach right after swimming in the ocean. Since she was still dripping water, she asked the store owner in her limited English, “Okay I wet here?” The owner, seeing the small puddle at her feet, asked us to leave.
  • One year, we went to Busch Gardens amusement park in Williamsburg. My uncle took one look at the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster and declared it wasn’t the least bit intimidating. After he got off the ride, his face was devoid of color, he was listing to the right and promptly vomited. As usual, we kids pointed and laughed.
  • My mom always brought rice on our trips, rolling it into balls so we could eat them with our fingers. She tried to cook it in a pot over a campfire once but that didn’t turn out well.
  • We rented a mountain cabin one summer but the electricity went out during a storm so we had none for a day or two, except for the static kind on the toilet seat that zapped us every time we sat down. We were so cold at night, we’d put on every item of clothing we brought (I wore 5 shirts and 3 skirts) and all sleep in the same bed for warmth.
  • My law-abiding, 55-driving dad would sometimes rent a car for our road trip, then proceed to take corners on two wheels, zigzag through traffic on the highway, doing 80 and beyond. When Mom, hanging on for dear life, asked why he was driving like that, he’d say, “It’s a rental.”
  • Every Fourth of July, Dad loaded us into the Ford LTD station wagon to go see fireworks on the National Mall. It always took 2 hours there (the drive into D.C. normally took only 15-20 minutes from our house) and 3 days back due to traffic, but there’s nothing like seeing fireworks explode over the Washington Monument.

One of my best friends once told me part of her job is to create happy memories for her children. My parents certainly did their job and then some.

What are some of your favorite family vacation memories?



  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Oh my God, those rice balls sound kind of awesome! I have gazillions of fun summer memories, but I think one of my favorites also has to do with camping! When my Mom lived in Florida we would camp every summer at Stone Mountain just outside of Atlanta. By day three, my brother and sister and I were so sick of “camping food” that we somehow convinced my mom to take us to a KFC we saw outside the park on the drive in.

    We drove all the way there and all the way back on what was probably one of the hottest days EVER and by the time we got our bucket of chicken back to the campsite all of the skin had slid off the chicken in the heat. It looked so horrifying, but, we just shrugged and picked out our pieces of chicken and then fought over which piece of skin went with which piece if chicken. It was hilarious!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 7, 2010 at 1:44 pm

      Oh yeah, those rice balls were delicious, especially since Mom dipped them in salt and sesame seeds.

      Your KFC experience is hysterical! I can imagine the exchange between you and your siblings. “That skin goes with MY chicken.” “Mom, he ate my skin!”

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 5:43 am

    My law-abiding, 55-driving dad would sometimes rent a car for our road trip, then proceed to take corners on two wheels, zigzag through traffic on the highway, doing 80 and beyond. When Mom, hanging on for dear life, asked why he was driving like that, he’d say, “It’s a rental.”

    I was smiling as I read your memories (as I usually do), till I hit this one. I cracked up! Maybe, I woke everybody else in the house (it was 5:15 AM when I read this). Too funny, Elyse. The only memory that stands out about the 4th of July involving my kids goes to my family side’s holiday picnics. My cousin brought my kids a nerf baseball set (bat, ball, and some catcher’s thing). She told my son (6 years at the time) to be careful swinging the bat around people.

    I was out in the park (looking back) playing a round of catch with my relatives at the time. You can guess what happened next. Getting ready to tee-off on the ball, taking practice swings (my son is not known for taking half swings at anything), promptly caught his 2 year old sister square in the forehead with the bat. Luckily, it on the backswing (decreasing speed, and it was a nerf bat). Still, between the sound of it hitting her head (no permanent mark, except for her memory of the event), and the stars she must of seen, along with her screaming, made any later nighttime fireworks superfluous ;-).

    Thanks, Elyse, for sharing.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

      I honestly had no idea that anecdote was that funny. Dad always did that with rentals and we’d cheer him on, much to Mom’s chagrin.

      Your story made me laugh. It’s unfortunate that A. hit F. but I think it’s kinda cool he doesn’t do anything halfway. This reminded me of a recent incident I had playing softball with a bunch of 5-year-olds. One kid had never played & didn’t know the rules. After hitting the ball, he ran towards first base with the bat. When I tried to tag him after catching the ball, he panicked, swung the bat to get me to back off and whacked me right in the face. The stars I saw were lovely.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    July 7, 2010 at 6:09 am

    Like Le0 I busted out laughing when I read the section about your dad and rental cars. My colleague wanted to know what the heck was wrong with me. I have to say that many of my vacation trips with my parents were more traumatic.

    My parents, too, liked camping. I don’t remember ever camping in a tent with my family…we had a camper most of the time I was growing up…but I HATED camping. I still hate camping to this day. I like things such as hiking and camp fires, but at the end of the day, I like to be in my bed at home, or at least in a solid structure. I like indoor plumbing and a shower with hot water. But more than anything, I’m an introvert and I need to have my time away from people. You simply don’t have that in a confined space like a camper. And don’t even get me started on girl scout camp. Anyway…

    What I remember loving more than anything was going to watch my dad play softball. He loved baseball and softball and played in leagues until I was probably about 10. So I always looked forward to going to the ball park.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      I hear you about hot water and sleeping in my own bed. I like being clean and comfy. I’m also afraid of bears.

      That’s nice about watching your dad play ball. Did you ever play?

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 9:50 am

    We’re bigtime campers…now. My husband and I both camped as kids, but naturally our parents did all the planning (and the work). The first couple times we camped we thought we could manage with cooking over a fire like on the river rafting trip we took. Well, those raft guys knew how to start and keep a good fire, and how do manage stuff like making coffee. We ended up eating cold stew out of a can and packaged danish. And conveniently happening upon old friends who lived in the area and were willing to feed us. 30 years later, we’re gone from tent to trailer and back to tent again, and have managed to create lots of good memories for our kids; bears breaking into the truck, moose staring us down on a hike, canoing and kayaking at dawn or dusk to see the wildlife… They’re grown now, but my son is the fisherman who teaches his pals and my daughter is the only one in her group who can start and maintain the nightly bonfires at the beach. On the flip side, I went to Vegas with the folks every year. Nice in a way, but I’ll stick with waking to the great outdoors.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 7, 2010 at 2:04 pm

      Your memories sound lovely and ALMOST convince me camping is fun. I do like hiking, kayaking, bonfires and seeing moose, but as I said above, bears scare me. So do Vegas trips.

      Very cool, though, about the experiences and skills you’ve given your son and daughter.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 10:32 am

    The best 4th I ever had was on the east coast. It was a small town (although it felt like a big city to us back then) and the best place to watch the fireworks was on the promenade looking out across the ocean. My girlfriend’s parents drove us there and then went off to tailgate party with their friends, so our hormone crazed 16 year old selves were left alone in the back end of their truck with a canopy over the truck bed. It had a moon roof! We got hold of some beer, it was hot, the fireworks started and clothes came off. I still remember that night fondly. Ahh, Summer.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

      So, the fireworks went off in your pants?

      • Reply
        July 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm


        I know, I know. It wasn’t exactly a family friendly thing, but 4th of July will always be synonymous with Summer lovin’ to me.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Your experiences are always hilarious, PCN!

    My favorite 4th was during my first year living in NYC. I was on my own and living in a really terrible studio apartment. Technically, I did have roommates, but they were cockroaches so they don’t count.

    I had only a few friends, but the relationships were tenuous at best since they were in high school, extremely rich and my co-workers at an ice-cream cafe I was working at after I got out of college.

    Anyway, I wanted to go to the fireworks and no one wanted to come along, so I packed a backpack full of snacks and a crappy blanket and headed out to a spot along the Hudson for optimum viewing. It was early. No one was there. I fell asleep in the sun and woke up with thousands of people pressed in close all around me. I was sunburned, groggy and I had been drooling, too. I packed my stuff back up as my little bit of squatter real estate closed became standing room only. Tugboats appeared along the river shooting streams of brightly colored water straight up in the air and then the fireworks went off.

    It was blast. Absolutely the best display of fireworks I have ever seen.

    I came there alone, but ended up leaving with about 40 people to head over to the South Street Seaport pier. A bunch of us got on a sailboat and went for a cruise. These strangers shared everything they had with me quite freely. I felt like a king. A lot of them still keep in touch. It was a great first summer in New York.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

      That sounds like a scene from a movie. Fireworks over the Hudson? Fantastic.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    brilliant!! LOVE the memory about your aunt….i howled when i read that one! 😀 when i was a kid, i was terrified of slugs. like, immobilized by them. not good when you live in the pacific northwest where everything is a damp playground for ginormous slugs. one weekend my family met up with my aunt and uncle for a picnic, and when everyone was gathering up the trash at the end, my aunt pointed me to a paper bag full of used paper plates. dutifully, i grabbed it, only to come face to face with a huge brown slug. i shrieked, tossed the bag in the air, and burst into tears. my aunt laughed until she realized that i was totally and completely freaked about by those damn things. i still guilt trip her about it. 🙂

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      I’m STILL scared of slugs! Ewwwww! Maybe you can put a snake in a paper bag, give it to your aunt and see how she handles it?

      • Reply
        July 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

        turnabout is certainly fair play!

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    July 7, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I’m glad I wasn’t still sipping my morning coffee when I read about your aunt in the gift shop! You have so many wonderful experiences to recount, PCN, but it’s the way you tell them that makes them extra-special. As for camping, we did our share, though usually on beaches, but even with pump-up air mattresses, sleeping bags, quilts and carpet on the ground, it was too rough for me! {I’m sure there was a pea somewhere underneath all of that…}

    “One of my best friends once told me part of her job is to create happy memories for her children.” That’s lovely!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      Oh, thanks, Shell. Many of my personal experiences are, um, abnormal, but they’re funny once I get past them. Your kind of camping sounds like absolute luxury. Your pea beats my tree branch stabbing me in the spine.

      And yes, my friend is very wise in how she sees parenting.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    My parents were both teachers, and my mom was really sick growing up, so family vacations consisted of going wherever my dad’s teacher conferences were. They were usually fun, although many times we were stuck in the hotel room while mom slept and dad was at the conference.

    When I was 16, my parents saved and saved to take us to Disneyworld. My brother was 14, and my sister was 11. It was so much fun, but I remember riding this kiddie roller coaster (I am deathly afraid of roller coasters). My mom and I rode in the car together, and after we got off, this little kid tugged on his dad’s hand and said: “Daddy, what’s wrong with that big girl?” I was mortified. Even more mortifying was the photo of my face from one particularly scary dip…

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      Hilarious, Jenn! I’m also terrified of roller coasters. Once, I think I blacked out because I remember experiencing sheer terror right before a drop and then next thing I knew, park employees were gathered around me after the ride was over, trying to pry my hands off the safety bar and telling me to breathe. The friend who was with me said she called them over because my lips had turned purple and I was unresponsive.

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