I’ll never forget the ice cream cone sand toy my mother bought me when I was a child. The cone was the bucket, it had a middle chocolate layer of ice cream for the sifter, and the cherry top was a scooper. A vision of it popped into my head when we saw a similar yellow cone toy forgotten at the beach on our last day of vacation. I was surprised at how vividly I could picture my old toy.
Or the Native American doll we got at the trading post, with the beaded leather clothes and baby on her back. Or the way that store smelled, or the even more unbelievable smell of the candy shop that a little old lady ran out of her front porch nearby. I remember the bright white door and windows of the shop, and my first taste of white chocolate (an event that, I cannot stress this enough, changed my life).
When I walked into a candy shop on our vacation last week, that same fudgy/sugary smell hit me and I was transported to that little old lady’s porch. I have memories of childhood, but it is these vacation times that come back to me most clearly. I guess that’s because the family was together doing really fun stuff that we never got to do at other times, so they were very happy moments.
On this latest trip my mother and I took the boys to Storyland, a tradition we started a few years ago. At one point my mother told me something I never really knew before: that she had no memories of her grandmother beyond the strict, prim and proper woman sitting stiffly in a dress a the dinner table, a distant woman from another era. She said she wasn’t even sure if her grandmother spoke more than ten words to her in her whole life.
I thought of my own grandmother, and have too many memories to count. The hours spent playing solitaire on her dining room table. The game cabinet that in the days before electricity had been her cooler, but was now filled with toys for her grandchildren. The chicken bones she saved for us to play tug-of-war with, her work room filled with pins and beads, her mysterious old claw-foot tub, and where the gumdrops were hidden.
I even have some memories of the grandmother I lost when I was only four. She gave me Special K with sugar sprinkled over it and and let me eat it in front of the tv. She had black hair, kind eyes, and made the most incredible (and irreplaceable) blueberry tarts from berries we picked in her backyard.
And now this grandma, breaking the bank on a four-day extravaganza to all things fun: ice cream and candy, pools, amusement parks, rope courses, milkshakes, battling the other grandparents to win junky carnival game prizes.
Mom has always been concerned that the boys will see her as someone fun in their lives. She’s obviously doing the opposite of what her grandmother did, and we laughed at that fact as she dragged herself out of the lake we were swimming in, on our way back to town for dinner at the restaurant she had allowed them to pick.
I don’t know what memories my sons will have of their vacations, but Mom is right about one thing: we are making them every year. Every year they remember our traditions and want them to continue exactly as they’ve always been. Of course it’s sad for all of us when one of those traditions end, like when a business has closed or changed owners, and they stopped making the world’s best candy apple. Another Mom-ism from this trip was that change always happens no matter what. There’s nothing you can do about it.
I’m usually saddened by change, especially as my sons’ childhood years race by. But we are grateful for the change that is good. We started taking the boys to Storyland because mom and dad brought my sister and I there as children. When we found an exhibit of pictures of the park through the years, I immediately looked for the ’70s to show them what it was like when I used to go.
There in the middle of the park was the Little Black Sambo merry-go-round. Wow. We checked, and by the next iteration of the park it had been changed to the Jungle Adventure. It felt inappropriate to even be explaining our reaction to the boys (with all the mommies and daddies covering their kids’ ears and looking at me like I was insane), but they had to know.
And so we will go on. Things will change, sometimes for the worse but hopefully more often for the better. The boys will remember some of it and forget some of it. But some day when they’re at the beach with their kids, they’ll remember the cold lake in New Hampshire and throwing the ball in the water with Grammy.