The opportunity existed for us to leave town for the holiday weekend. I had confirmed weeks ago that no one would be using the family vacation home in Maine, and that we were welcome to spend the long weekend or any part of it there by the ocean. The idea seemed even more promising once a weather forecast was issued in the middle of last week: hot, sunny weather stretching from Friday through Monday and beyond. But the plan never quite materialized. Though I felt ready for a quick escape, Rick had been away for most of August and relished the thought of some time to attend to projects at home.
My Facebook feed was full of friends’ holiday weekend photos. Some were at lake homes or out on motor boats. Others were hiking in the White Mountains or catching enormous fish in rushing rivers.
But as I looked at my kids, who were doing none of the above but didn’t seem to have a complaint in the world, I remembered that if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my memoir work and helping people look back over lives that are often eight or nine decades long, it’s that the best memories often have nothing to do with being at the ocean for a holiday weekend. “My father lost his job during the Great Depression, and looking back as an adult, I know my parents must have been under a great deal of stress, but what I remember about that time is playing Parcheesi, popping popcorn, and listening to band concerts on the radio,” said one client recently.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility that what we would have remembered most from a Labor Day weekend getaway was the endless traffic jams that inevitably bookend a sunny New England weekend.
Instead, on Sunday evening, we bought tuna subs and went to a local pond not ten minutes from our house. It’s a place usually favored by families with very small children, because the water is warm and shallow, and we hadn’t been there in years, but somewhat to my surprise, the kids didn’t express the slightest hesitation about going. They put on their bathing suits and rummaged up beach towels. Once there, they made their way to the water’s edge together and started digging in the sand.
I can no longer tell myself that there will be lots of other Labor Day weekends for family trips to Maine or other long-weekend getaway destinations. Tim is starting his junior year; if all goes according to plan, two years from now he’ll already be away at college by Labor Day weekend. It’s quite possible, hard as it is to believe, that this was our second-to-last Labor Day spent together as a family, and our main activity was a picnic and swim at the local pond.
But it just didn’t seem to matter. I don’t know if my kids will ever write memoirs, but if they do, I’m almost sure they’ll remember digging in the sand and eating tuna subs ten minutes from home just as enthusiastically as they might have recalled a more grand-scale weekend getaway. They were happy and they were having fun. And what I’ve learned as I interview more and more people of all ages for memoir projects is that fun and happiness are what sow the seeds for long-lasting memories, regardless of their source.
All the other kids playing on the beach by the pond as the sun started to set appeared to be at least a half-decade younger than my children. Any other teens by the water that evening were there on dates, not with their parents and siblings. And Tim is surely the only kid in his peer group who would both chauffeur his family to the pond and build sand castles once he got there.
There will be other chances for family vacations and getaways. Sometimes the memories made close to home are the best ones of all.