The earthy smell of coffee, sounds of familial laughter and breakfast dishes in the sink carried up the stairway to my room. I fought back the urge to follow the warmth that called to me from the first floor so I could finish the task at hand. Stacks of laundry checkered the bed as I folded outfits for myself and Helena, doing my best to fit the piles into our family duffle.
The night before, we squeezed 7 adults and 4 children in our 1400 square foot home. Mattresses on the living room floor, and sheets pulled over couches made for an old fashioned sleepover. The din of children’s feet and and symphony of conversations felt like home to me – but was a little foreign to Micah. When you grow up with 8 siblings I guess you get used to the activity…
Over breakfast, my siblings and I had reminisced about our history of family vacations to McCormick’s Creek as we prepared to return to our old stomping grounds.
So many memories and feelings of nostalgia are tied to those words – that place. As a child, every summer my family would make the pilgrimage to the Hoosier state to “camp” at McCormick’s Creek. Every year we rented the same three primitive cabins in a secluded clearing. We would hike, swim, and scale waterfalls. My Dad used the week of daily pool time to teach every new swimmer of the family how to float on their back (which at the time felt like torture – but I’m grateful for it now). It’s also where I learned how to do an underwater back flip without getting water up my nose (I can feel that awful stinging sensation even now) – the key is to blow air bubbles from your nose the whole time. 😉
We so looked forward to that place because we got to break free and run wild so to speak. There was no structure – no school, no church – although we still sang hymns around the campfire on Sunday morning (s’mores can substitute for communion, right?) and Dad still drilled us on our times tables – but we were free!
When we got dirty and sweaty from hiking, we went to the pool. When our bodies grew weary from swimming and eyes stung from chlorine, we flopped onto our bunk beds and took a nap. When we had replenished energy, we took off on our bikes and roller-blades to conquer the winding asphalt roads.
“I remember the sound of the gravel…” said Hannah, as we sat around the kitchen table. “Yes!” we all said in unison – because we too, could still hear it. Our cabin site had a long, gravel driveway that branched off the state park road. After we had set up camp we anxiously awaited to hear the sound of the gravel crunching beneath tires. “They’re here!” someone would shout and we would come running from all corners. Sticks were dropped, books shoved under pillows, and screen doors slammed as we raced to see who had arrived. It might be a family that my parents had invited to join us, or our grandparents whom we hadn’t seen all year.
As a child, hanging out with our Grandparents for a week at McCormick’s Creek meant a steady supply of Wrigley’s Double Mint Gum and Werther’s Original Candies. It also meant they might buy you a new swimsuit at the nearest Walmart or teach you how to play games with dice and cards (which were normally banned from our conservative household because of their ties to gambling).
Somewhere along the line, kids went off to college and our tradition tapered off. We no longer vacationed as a family every summer.
Nine years ago, my siblings planned a return visit with some childhood friends for a weekend of tent camping (or real camping as my husband would say). The cabins had long since been torn down (they were always a little worse for wear – which is probably why we could afford to vacation there as a family of 11) but we visited the site anyway as if it were hallowed ground. During that trip Tabitha’s boyfriend at the time planned a proposal during a hike which I captured with my (very amateur) photography skills. Naturally, that place became even more special to our family.
This year, we once again planned to return – this time to stay in the less primitive family cabins. (These cabins had a stove, sink and fridge – and my favorite – BATHROOMS! No more trips to the pit toilet in the middle of the night!)
To break up the trip, all who could make it drove from Chicago to stay with Micah and I the night before, and we caravaned over to Indiana the next day. For some reason I felt extra anticipation for this return trip – I think because this time, I would bring my daughter. I had such sweet memories of that place and I wanted my daughter to be a part of that – and hopefully build her own memories there…
So we took plenty of pictures – just in case her little one year old memory forgets. 😉
Fast forward a few days and we are back home – there are extra piles of laundry in the basement and camping supplies waiting to be stowed away – but I wanted to sit down and write about this place and these memories before the summer is swallowed up and they are forgotten.
Like all experiences that you build up in your head, there were a few disappointments. It rained almost the entire weekend – so there were no trips to the pool or back-floating lessons. There was eventually a break in the rain where we enjoyed a misty hike up to the falls – until of course it began to drizzle, and then pour…
And no family vacation would be complete without a little drama – or debate as some might call it – but nothing that a little passing of the wine bottle around the fireside can’t cure (getting a little more accurate with our campfire communion here).
We were all a little bummed, too for Tabitha & Adam when they hiked around for hours – looking for their original proposal site and couldn’t seem to find it. But, they experienced a new adventure together and burned several hundred calories.
Revisiting this place as a mother also had me re-adjusting my expectations a bit as I spent what seemed like hours cooped up in our cabin – coaxing my daughter to sleep each night- when what I really wanted to do was join the laughter that echoed from the campfire. But thankfully I have a husband who knows what I need and took the second shift so I could roast a ‘mallow with my siblings.
I think for me there will always be a little bit of a let down when you try to re-create an experience or memory exactly. It won’t ever be the same. That is why memories are so precious – because they are so fleeting. I focused on this a little bit during the trip – because of the little disappointments, and mourning that not everyone could be there – like old times.
But nostalgia doesn’t have to be sorrowful. I decided to be thankful, to cherish those memories of my family at McCormick’s Creek – and then to be present and enjoy the new memories that were unfolding before my eyes.
This year, there were no proposals (though I still do have two very eligible sisters, gentlemen…) I didn’t get to play dice with my grandparents, and there were no epic kisses atop a waterfall. But my brother-in-law received a much awaited call & job offer,
and my daughter started walking!
People. My daughter is a walker. Officially. And I caught it all on tape in a quiet moment outside our cabin at McCormick’s Creek.
This may not seem that exciting to some of you, I understand. But wait till you push what seems to be a helpless blob out of your body and then you watch it grow until one day it walks. It will be EPIC.
I was so proud of her, and so grateful to have this memory with her, at that place.
So, let’s wrap this up with a cheesy (but true) moral-of-the-story. (I am talking to myself here, so feel free to ignore if it doesn’t apply to you.) Cherish those memories. Hold tight to them. But not so tight that you are comparing your memories to your new experiences, or trying to recreate an impossibility. And I don’t mean to sound dismissive. I know for some of us, memories are the only connection we have to people we love.
Honor your memories and the people in them by creating new ones.
And one last thought. Go camping. (Who needs Disney World when you can hike through a stream and slip off a rock?) Get off that phone and get some dirt under your fingernails.
My sister-in-law, Esther took this picture and I am in love with it 🙂