My daughter Niki surprised me the first time she told me her summer plans. I popped the cap off a bottle of apple ale and divided the contents between two wine glasses. Handing her one of the bubbly, sweet drinks, I asked while thinking that surely I had misunderstood, “What did you just say you wanted to do this summer?
Shifting Blaise, her one-year-old son on her lap, she accepted the glass and took a sip. She said, “Mmmm! Yummy. For our summer vacation, I want to take the children to visit a family Mike and I knew before they moved to Colorado.”
That was exactly what I had thought she’d said. The logistics of a widowed mother with eight children accomplishing the trip filled me with a mixture of dismay, worry and admiration. I questioned, “When do you want to do this?”
Niki said, “I want to fit our vacation between planting my garden and the boys and girls summer camps in July. I’m thinking we’ll start out on Father’s Day.”
“How long will you be gone?” I asked.
My daughter calmly said, “I hope to be back by Jon’s fifteenth birthday on June 29th.
After Niki and her family had gone home that evening, I wondered if as a young woman, I had ever been brave enough to do what she planned. Arnie and I had driven to Tennessee, South Dakota and other states, but we were always together and only had two daughters in the back seat.
A few weeks before the start of Niki’s planned vacation she said, “One thing worries me about the trip. If the van breaks down when I’m several states away, what will I do?”
I nodded and said, “I feel helpless when my vehicle has problems, but since I seldom drive far from home, I know people and places to call. Maybe you should enroll in the American Automobile Association. They have an emergency number that you can call for quick help, no matter where you are.”
A week before the start of Niki’s family vacation she added, “Jon wants a friend to come with us, so I will have nine passengers.
I said, “Your van will be jammed with luggage and kids.”
My daughter mused, “I wish I had shelves in the back of the van. We stack everything on top of other things and when you need something from the bottom, you upset the order. I’m bringing a lot of food. With this many people, it would be too expensive to eat every meal at a restaurant. Besides, the children are always hungry onean hour after we eat a meal.”
I said, “I suppose it is too late to have shelves put in. Maybe you could stack all the food on one side and the bags with clothing on the other side.”
Nodding, Niki said, “I’ve thought of another way to lighten the load. We will pack only enough clothing for half the trip. When we get to Colorado, we can launder what we’ve worn to be good to go for our trip back home.”
Right on schedule, Niki and the nine children left Wisconsin on Father’s Day afternoon. Since then I’ve been traveling along vicariously through her texts and pictures. Their first stop was in the Twin Cities where they visited the Minnehaha water fall and spent the night with the children’s Aunt Tami.
The children looked uncomfortably hot in the picture Niki sent from the Badlands, then wet and laughing at a fountain somewhere else. They visited the famous Wall Drugstore in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Mountain.
Arnie and I had visited South Dakota with Niki and Tami in 1990. We had enjoyed that trip very much, but it felt good to return home to rest. When Niki called me from Cheyenne, Wyoming, she said they were having a good time, but it was the end of a long day and I thought she sounded a little tired. In the background I heard Gemma crying and calling for her.
I asked, “Niki, are you going to need a vacation after you get home from your vacation?” Niki didn’t have to answer me. I resolved right then, that I’d take all the children for a day so my brave daughter could rest when they returned home.