Declan is gearing up for his summer and has been counting down the remaining school days for several weeks now. He is anxious to spend time with family members outside of McCook, primarily his mother and sister in Colorado, but he is also scheduled for an adventure with Grandma and most of his cousins, that I am more than a little disappointed to be missing.
As excited as I am for him, this is not my favorite time of the year for obvious reasons. I typically try to cram some sort of last minute vacation into the last few days before he departs, undoubtedly an attempt to alleviate guilt I have stockpiled for not taking him to the park more often over the past year, but also because it is typically the only extended period of time that I have Declan and my daughter Shawn together.
The usually over-scheduled week prior to his summer departure typically leaves me exhausted, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
When I was a child our family would travel to Philip, South Dakota, every Fourth of July to spend a week or two at my grandparents. I have many wonderful memories of my stepfather equipping my three younger brothers and me with protective goggles and sending us into the backyard, each armed with our own arsenal of bottle rockets.
Those were some of the best vacations ever, spent in a town of less than 1,000 people with next to no shopping or amenities to speak of. We spent most days roaming the local park or swimming at their town pool when it was open (which I could swear was heated) and then ending the day by playing ping-pong in my grandparents' unfinished, but always cool, basement.
Eventually my grandparents sold their South Dakota home and relocated to Texas, so they could spend their days playing cards with friends. The annual trips to South Dakota ended, but the experience had a resounding effect on all of us.
I was in the Army, stationed in Germany, when I received a letter from one of my younger brothers telling of the final drive to Philip from our then home in Casper, Wyoming.
My stepfather is an avid hunter and fishermen and he had a new hunting rig every couple of years growing up. The year of the final trek to Philip he loaded everyone into a used Suburban he had recently purchased, particularly excited to be able to make the trip in only one vehicle, which wasn't always the case.
According to my brother, as a hunting rig, air conditioning was a secondary priority and the older Suburban had not been equipped with it. This made the trip slightly uncomfortable as it was a hotter than normal summer but nothing that the kids couldn't cope with, especially knowing the drive would end with a grand bottle-rocket shootout.
At some point a cloud of smoke was noticed on the road ahead, strangely passing over the old highway they travelled on with no identifiable point of origin.
As the vehicle approached and began to pass through the strange cloud, it was discovered that it wasn't a cloud at all but rather a swarm of migrating bees. Combined with the fact that every window in the Suburban was rolled down in response to the lack of air conditioning, what ensued was hailed by my younger brothers as being akin to a scene from a National Lampoon movie.
Luckily no accident took place, but all seven passengers in the vehicle were stung at least once and some of them multiple times.
I randomly burst into laughter for months after reading the letter, envisioning the chaos that must have ensued after the vehicle became filled with angry bees. It was a grand finale to the summer trips, but one I am glad to have missed.
Although we don't have a set summer location that we travel to every year, I do my best to give Shawn and Declan the opportunity for memories such as those that I have. While the kids may have their eye on more high profile vacation spots than my budget can afford, Philip is a prime example of the value of gathering with family and friends, wherever you can make it happen.
I will miss Declan dearly over the next several weeks but I know his summer will be filled with memories, both from his vacation weeks with me and those with his mother and grandmother. By the end of summer he will be anxious to return to McCook and Shawn will be anxious to return to her mother in Kansas. I have a feeling though that at least one thing will be very different with Shawn. She is likely to return as one heck of a table tennis player, as her Uncle Casey convinced me recently to carve out just enough space in our unfinished and always cool basement, to place a ping-pong table.