The definition of a "vacation" is quite broad. For some families, it's a trip to the mountains or the ocean or to Disney World. Increasingly, a vacation can mean a trip to Europe or beyond.
When I was a kid, the term meant a visit to relatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And, to this country kid, our vacations were just as exciting as a trip to points beyond.
Being the oldest of six children, my memories of family vacations include those when there just a few of us kids as well as the later years when the family sedan was packed tight with ornery little Huismans.
The family vacation I recall with the greatest fondness was a visit to my father's Uncle Sam and Aunt Harmka in northwest Wisconsin. I was 11 that summer and as far as I was concerned, the trip could as well have been to North Carolina.
On departure day Mom was up early preparing food for the trip. Restaurants were seldom on our itinerary. Soon we were heading north. About three miles into the trip, 6-year-old brother David asked, "How much longer?"
How much longer indeed. Imagine traveling in a four-door sedan with four boys ages 3, 6, 8 and 11 and a baby girl. In the summer. Without air conditioning.
Back in those pre-Interstate highway days you drove through one little town after another, which proved beneficial when the noon meal "dinner" in our country parlance came around. Most communities have a town park; when Dad found one close to noon we stopped for dinner.
Our mother dug out the goodies she had prepared earlier in the day. We brothers scoped out the playground and ran off some energy while Mom spread a clean table cloth over a picnic table and laid out the goodies. After a substantial picnic meal, our journey resumed.
I was amazed that Dad could find Uncle Sam and Aunt Harmka's dairy farm in the hills of Wisconsin. When we ran out of paved roads, we traveled for what seemed to be many more miles on gravel roads that twisted and turned around one beautiful hill after another.
Finally, we arrived at a picturesque farmstead. By the time we had greeted the relatives, got our bags in the house and enjoyed some of Aunt Harmka's homemade cookies and a glass of milk, it was time for afternoon chores. Uncle Sam had a relatively modern dairy barn for the day. The barn even had a motorized gutter-cleaner which moved the cows' waste outside the barn.
Dad warned us to stand back and behave while Uncle Sam and his bachelor brother, Klaas, moved the automatic milkers from one cow to another.
Brother Dave always had a hard time standing still and, sure enough, he slipped and fell into the gutter, letting out a blood curdling scream. He told us later that he was afraid the automatic gutter cleaner would sweep him out onto the large pile of manure just outside the barn.
Dad cautiously pulled him up and out of the gutter and gingerly walked him dripping with cow pee to the house where Dave had an unscheduled bath.
One of my favorite memories of the trip besides my little brother falling into a gutter was watching my great uncles argue. Klaas was the oldest of the nine Huisman siblings; Sam was the youngest.
Sitting in lawn chairs under a shade tree the next morning, the two brothers engaged in a passionate argument about our family's European history.
As I grew older I discovered why this recollection of my great uncles was so memorable. When Uncle Klaas was at his prime early in the 20th century he was 6'6" tall and 300 pounds. I grew into a latter-day Klaas. At the same time, I bear a strong physical resemblance to Sam.
As an adult, I am deeply interested in genealogy and my ethnic heritage. And like both of my great uncles, I love a lively debate.
Our family vacations were low-budget trips to relatives. A visit to Disneyland would not have been more meaningful for a kid who is a genetic heir to Sam and Klaas Huisman.