Leave on vacation and return with memories

As summer winds to an end, I’ve been reminiscing about vacations. Once upon a time, I packed mass quantities of shoes and books for vacations. My husband, Mike, is the opposite. A minimalist, he can pack for a month in a carry-on.

Once, on a cruise, we shared a dining table with a very proper older couple. The husband — always dressed in a white dinner jacket and bow tie — let us know how appalled he was that cruisers now dressed so casually for meals. “I actually saw someone wearing athletic shoes,” he recounted, “to dinner!” I gave Mike a slight kick under the table. To minimize packing, he was wearing black — you guessed it — athletic shoes. He figured black ones could do double duty, casual and formal. And they did, sort of.

I no longer take a trunk full of shoes and books on vacations. At 68, cute shoes have given way to sensible ones with arch support. And I can bring a library of e-books on my Kindle. I even kept a promise to my husband a couple of years ago to limit myself to a backpack and one carry-on for a trip to Europe.

Our last night in Europe, we had a formal dinner with our tour group. I knew our travel mates were tired of seeing us in the same clothes every day when a travel companion exclaimed at dinner, “Wow, you two really clean up well!” I refrained from formally punching that woman in the nose. And yes, Mike was wearing black athletic shoes.

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These days, I pack memories. Our four grandchildren, ranging in age from 7 to 1, are growing up fast, and there’s a corollary to their growth: The faster they grow, the older I get. I want to savor every moment with them. I love making memories with them on annual family vacations to Door County, Wisconsin.

I have fond recollections of childhood vacations, too. As a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, my young widowed mother drove our little family to the East Coast every summer. She was kind of a scaredy-cat by nature, so it was a step out of her comfort zone to drive cross-country with three young daughters in tow. But we girls begged for beach vacations. There were adventures aplenty on our annual treks to the Maryland shore. Weird motels, car breakdowns and unexpected illnesses were de rigueur.

As our boys were growing up, I was determined to give them an array of vacation experiences. We visited the Grand Canyon and Florida at spring break, camped in Canada, and toured Washington, D.C., among other escapades.

But the vacations our sons loved the most were ones we took to Bear Island Resort near Ely, Minnesota. Our sons were the fourth generation of the Mangas family to enjoy a North Country vacation on pristine Bear Island Lake. Mike’s paternal grandpa was first. He went on fishing expeditions there in the 1930s, taking a train to the end of the line and then hiring a driver to navigate the bumpy dirt roads to the resort.

Transportation and accommodations improved over the years, but now, it’s all a memory. The resort was sold a few years ago, and the property turned into a subdivision. I savor Bear Island memories, though: the call of loons, boys skipping rocks, boat rides, water-skiing, picking blueberries on a craggy island, spectacular sunsets.

Door County is now our go-to family vacation spot. We stay on the quiet waters of Green Bay, making memories with a new generation. Last year we saw the Northern Lights. And to keep one thing consistent, Mike packs black athletic shoes. Those shoes are always good for yet another sole-ful story.