A Different … and Special … Family Vacation

The Family Vacation Group Writing Project at Babylune made me think of one of the best family vacations I’ve ever had.

The theme of the project is to:

…write a post about a family vacation that you have taken as a parent or as a child. What are your memories of the main event, your favorite parts, the successes, the advice for others, the fun factor and/or the mishaps?

I’m not sure this post qualifies because the vacation I’m writing about started out as a business trip, and, although it was taken with my parents, I was an adult at the time. But I want to share this precious memory, whether it’s appropriate for the group writing project or not.

My family didn’t take vacations when I was growing up. My father was a real homebody, but even if he had enjoyed travel, it’s not likely we would have been able to go on vacation. Daddy was a chicken farmer, and you can’t leave tens of thousands of chickens while you take a trip. The chickens had to be fed and the eggs gathered, cleaned, graded, and packaged every day, and delivered two or three times a week. And the income from chicken farming didn’t stretch to taking a family of six children on vacation.

My husband is a lot like my father in many ways, not the least in being a homebody. So through our forty years of marriage, we have taken only a few vacations together. Most of the traveling I have done has been to conferences and business meetings.

About twenty years ago, an organization for women business owners offered a seminar onboard a cruise ship. The schedule allowed plenty of time for pleasure and enough training to qualify as a business expense. I’d always wanted to take a cruise, and the seminar seemed like the perfect opportunity to enjoy a new experience, gain some new knowledge, and save money. Seminar attendees and their guests received a significant discount off the price of the cruise. Since my husband had absolutely no interest in the trip, I invited my grown-up “baby” sister (she’s the youngest and I’m the oldest) to go with me.

Shortly after we made our reservations, my father called me and asked, “Why didn’t you invite Mama and me to go with you and Nancy?’

I had no idea he would even consider it and told him so. He said they wanted to go, so I made reservations for them as well.

Daddy absolutely amazed me … and wore me out. I went to bed at night before he finished playing the slot machines in the casino. He and Mama enjoyed the unlimited – and often exotic – food. He even had fun shopping in the island markets when the ship docked. I enjoyed lying on the deck reading between seminar sessions, but my parents were constantly involved in some activity. Mama, Nancy, and I all marveled at how much fun Daddy was having.

One morning while I was attending a workshop and Nancy had gone off on her own, Mama and Daddy were walking around exploring the ship. Mama got tired, and the first place they found to sit was in a theater. They didn’t know what was happening in the theater – they were just looking for a place to rest.

What was happening was the Men’s Knobby Knee Contest. A woman came out into the audience and pulled my father up on stage to participate in the contest. Several women judges felt the “knobby knees” of Daddy and other “contestants,” and Daddy was declared the winner.

My sister and I thought Mama was joking when she told us the story over lunch. My daddy was shy and reserved. No way would he let himself be pulled up on stage, much less let a bunch of women feel his knees! Yep, he had done just that. And when Mama was telling us the story, Daddy got the cute little grin that always meant he was really having a good time.

That vacation was one of the best times I’ve ever had with my parents and my sister. We spent more time having fun together than we ever had, and I saw my father enjoy himself more than I could have ever imagined.

Not long after we returned from that wonderful trip, we started noticing that Daddy was forgetting things and becoming easily confused. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and began to lose more and more of his abilities. After he had a heart attack, he could no longer communicate with any consistency. Though he had moments of lucidity for some time, he was totally incapacitated, physically and mentally, for several years before his death.

Unbeknownst to us, he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s when we took the cruise. One of his first symptoms was the loss of his inhibitions. Our family vacation happened at just the right moment for him to be spontaneous and outgoing without any loss of mental ability.

After Daddy died, my mother gave me the little plastic “First Prize” trophy that he won in the knobby knees contest. Every time I look at that tacky little trinket I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the precious time we had together before we lost him to that horrible disease.

Updated 9/1/07: I am thrilled that Kate selected this post as the winner! Thank you, Kate, for sponsoring the group writing project and especially for choosing my post as the winning entry.

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