My father’s truck bumped along the dirt road. Mom sat in the passenger seat, and my brother and I sat in small back seats that folded down, waiting to reach our destination.
“We’re here!” my parents said. I looked through the front windshield and saw we were parked in a field with many other vehicles. There was a big stage at the edge of the field.
“What is this?” I asked. My parents told me we were attending a bluegrass festival. While I wasn’t quite sure what bluegrass was, I knew it wasn’t cool. Madonna was cool. This bluegrass stuff that my parents were excited to listen to was not going to be cool.
Other kids got to go to Disney World during the summer or jumped on an airplane to some awesome island. We get a bluegrass concert, and sometimes Lake George. I tried to hide my disappointment as I climbed out of the truck. Not far from us, I saw my friend Amy and her family unloading lawn chairs and coolers from their vehicle.
“Good. At least Amy is here,” I thought.
We walked across the field of tall grass and found a spot to spread our belongings. Mom unfolded the large, multi-colored beach blanket and laid it on the ground for us to sit. For a little while, our parents busied themselves setting up chairs, coolers, and bags while we waited, wondering what was in store. We sat with sandwiches in the hot summer sun, brushing ants from our knees and sipping packets of Capri Sun, the sound of Cicada’s buzzing in our ears.
The music started, and my opinionated viewpoint was confirmed. This sounded nothing like Madonna. This wasn’t even like The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix I was used to hearing through the large record player speakers at home. I stared off into the distance, thinking about when this thing was going to end. This was going to be a long, unexciting day.
Nearly an hour into what I considered a total bore-fest, I noticed the group of kids emerging from the woods that spread across the field behind the stage. Kids! As I looked closer, I noticed some were covered in mud as they made their way to the tall grass.
“Can we go over there?!” we asked our parents. We watched our parent’s eyes as they glanced toward the woods before nodding at one another in agreement.
“Sure, just make sure you don’t wander too far, and stick together,” they told us. We were off and running minutes later. What we discovered was far better than we’d imagined.
Through the shade of the trees was what looked to be every child dragged to the festival, all playing in a stream. They had buckets and were catching crayfish. While our parents sat back enjoying their music, food, and cooler of beer, we spent our time in our version of Neverland, walking barefoot through the water, skipping across rocks, hunting crayfish, and playing with the other kids who had also found this location exceedingly more interesting than the concert.
Time seemed to speed up, and the sun began to set. I looked up to see my father searching for us in the darkening woods. “Your mother wants you to come back. We’re going to be leaving soon, and you could use some bug spray,” he said.
I couldn’t wait to show him what we’d been doing, and it wasn’t long before he was staring into the water along with us, watching the fish and dipping his feet into the cool water. We managed to keep him entertained a while longer before he finally said it was time; we really needed to be heading home. We walked out into the field, the sound of bluegrass music resounding into the thinning crowd.
Mom looked us over, checking for cuts and scrapes, making sure we weren’t caked in dirt before spraying us with the bug spray we probably could have used two hours earlier. We sat snacking on crackerjacks, tired, finally listening to the music as our parents packed up the remaining blankets and chairs. I said goodbye to my friend before climbing back into my father’s pickup truck, crashing into the seat opposite my brother.
“Did you kids have fun?” my mother asked. There was no hesitation in our responses. We’d had fun. We’d had a blast. In fact, we were sorry it was over. I looked out the window, watching the moon as we drove home, no longer thinking about Disney World or faraway, tropical lands.
My husband always says, “Vacation is one of the few places you come back richer than when you left.” Point being that you come back with a wealth of memories and experiences. I completely agree. And one doesn’t need to spend a ton of money in order to make extraordinary memories.
I’ve come to realize the importance of sharing many little adventures with my kids. It can be camping down the road, attending a free festival, spontaneously checking into a hotel for an evening, or a day trip to a nearby city. Each experience is unique, lasting.
Our family wasn’t poor, but we didn’t have the money to take lavish vacations. In retrospect, it didn’t matter. I look back on our trips to the city, Lake George, and festivals with special fondness. These moments are forever engraved in my mind, cherished among the very best.
Childhood only happens once, and afterward, all that’s left are the memories. Take the little trips, wherever they may be. Kids will find fun anywhere they go. They will appreciate and remember the adventure, even if they don’t think they will – even if you’re going to a bluegrass concert.