What I did on my summer vacation

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By Steve Doyle

This was supposed to be about my July 4th and a unique opportunity to watch celebratory bombs bursting in air over the harbor area of an American city far older than the Declaration of Independence, which would be Beaufort, S.C., founded circa 1711.

But given the deluge I left with those of you at home, given all the efforts to produce and ignite fireworks that had to be shelved day after day and finally for more than a week or two, understanding the holiday cabin fever that beset you, that would have seemed a bit self-serving.

July 4ths are about history recorded and created, the truest celebration of America that I can imagine. Memorial and Veterans days honor those who served our country, but July 4th is the birthday for our greatest accomplishment, establishing and scripting a free society that is on its third century of success, a holiday I’ve always held as sacred as the fried-chicken-and-potato-salad picnics of my youth.

That we escaped to the Low Country of South Carolina, a sacred place of my adulthood, to resonate that day was a special moment that likely won’t be repeated in this lifetime. That rains were scattered and folks could line the downtown walk along the Beaufort River to peer a few miles southwest to the show from the town of Port Royal was a climatological concession.

Yes, Shelby County deserved equal opportunity, so that point won’t be belabored.

And if I were to mention that our travels took us farther north of Charleston to Pawley’s Island and left us in undisturbed sunshine may even seem to exacerbate your frustration. If you are groaning or snarling, please understand that the scorched tops of my flat feet paid the price for that sunshine.

(By the way, this journey, which also ventured back into North Carolina to the town of Jacksonville, where my older son and his family live, also begs a singular question: How can a state that celebrates its southern entrance with a monument to taste and wonder such as Beaufort County then surrender its northern gateway to an overdeveloped eyesore as awful as North Myrtle Beach? But then I recall that in Florida there are Daytona Beach and International Drive to ruin the natural beauty Marathon and Seaside and Tennessee’s glorious Blue Ridge Mountains must endure the scourge of Pigeon Forge.)

But please set all of that aside and celebrate with me our summer family vacation.

I could not have endured another week, I don’t think, without this opportunity, without the four of us piling into our family vehicle, taking along the dog – and, no, she didn’t have to ride Mitt Romney style, but more on that later – setting our sails to the winds and pushing aside a few days of reality for a rejuvenating, spa-like experience that our society grants to most of us.

Vacation. Ah.

To that point, Europeans have it right, shutting down their economy/workforce/standard operating procedures for a month each summer for holiday, or their version of the en masse egresse. Doesn’t that make getting away so much simpler?

In a world in which employees are squeezed as employers try to find a few dollars’ of extra profit, the paid vacation – an investment by said company into the health of its most expensive and irreplaceable asset, its workforce – has continued, even if some of that commitment has been reduced, rewritten and, occasionally, revoked, that last below-buckle belt constituting, in my view, a federal crime.

The opportunity to escape, to find a place of solace and pleasure, a corner of the world where workload, schedules and E-mail exchanges aren’t the measure of time, affords moments that most of us have come to guard selfishly and tenaciously as a right of passage. We set aside money, mold allotted time blocks into their most valuable forms and set our sights on something important.

As a child, we had one family vacation a year, to allow us to reunite with relatives who lived 16 hours south (as measured by the highways and vehicles of that day). If there were excursions to a beach or a city and a new experience, those were bonuses. This was about family and love.

Others form vacations into educational experiences for children, taking in history and geography, compiling scrapbooks, building an understanding of our important events – to wit the 4th of July – in the name of learning. Our vacation destinations, in turn, bill themselves to meet that need. Why else would a Civil War battlefield be a more heralded piece of real estate than any other field?

And then there are the escapists, who seek the fantasy world of islands, theme parks, beaches, mountains and our natural temples, such as glaciers and geysers, rivers and lakes and trails to precipices.

So our vacation was a little of all of that: visits with family, taking in some history, spending time at the beach and, above all, celebrating a time outside the maelstrom of the mundane. Here’s where I explain how our trip was anything but mundane.

As we were in our vehicle, covering thousands of miles, I realized I was witnessing a feat that has been unmatched anywhere during Independence Day sojourns to parks, countryside and even natural wonders.

There was our dog, designating her place of travel as lying across my folded Kentucky Press Association reflective vest, splayed across my wife’s map as she steered – my driving makes her sick, she says, but that’s another issue – us to our ultimate destinations.

If you can picture that, add this to a Rockwellian image of the new millennium: She also was consuming a dinner salad that she carefully created at a grocery story deli along the way.

Pause, reread that paragraph and get the picture.

Because there is no fireworks display or shrine anyone will see that is of more jaw-dropping incredulity.

Or I guess you had to be there. On vacation.