Summer vacation. August 2022:
We are heading north on I-81 in Virginia, the Subaru stuffed full with every potential vacation accoutrement: folding chairs, bottles of wine, citronella candles. Pat is driving. Every 25 miles, he asks me how excited I am.
If he were a dog, his head would be pushed out the window—tongue flailing, tail beating against my head rest. If he were a dog, I’d find his exuberance charming.
I don’t reply.
Our destination is Beulah, Michigan—a village on the shore of Chrystal Lake which itself abuts Lake Michigan. As northern Michigan tourist towns go, it’s a b-lister. No fudge shops. No swarms of flip floppers (think footwear, not politics). That’s what I like about Beulah, Michigan—it’s a real place. Charming, but with a local buzz.
A short walk from downtown awaits a house that will soon be crammed full of Callahans. All three of our kids, 2 daughters-in-law, our six-year-old grandson Jack, our eight-month-old granddaughter Charlie.
For a week we will do northern Michigan things—tube and swim and hike the dunes.
Pat’s family lives in the crannies surrounding Beulah. His is one of those 1950s-era, Irish-Catholic sized families. If everyone scrunches together, we can squeeze the entire clan in the picture frame.
Hurdling up the interstate, we are headed towards Pat’s idea of heaven—everyone together, vats of boiled corn and enough hamburgers to feed a football team.
“Julie, exactly how excited are you?”
“Pat, keep your eyes on the road.”
The week plays out to plan. It’s sunny, but not too sunny. Warm, but not too warm. The house suits us, as does the town. We check activities off our vacation list. We spend time with aunts and uncles and cousins. At night, we play games and debate whether or not kale should be counted as a gift that begins with k in Scattergories.
Then the week is over, and we are packing to leave. I ask Jack if he’s going to miss “this big, old house.”
“No,” he replies.
“How can you say that? Didn’t you have fun?”
“I won’t miss the house, grandma. I’ll miss the people.”
I’ve tossed that conversation over in my mind a hundred times.
Pat wasn’t excited to visit Beulah, Michigan. He was excited to see his family. I wasn’t upset to be headed up north. I was slightly bummed we weren’t all headed to the south of France.
Pat’s an extrovert. I’m an introvert. It’s people versus place. Group hugs versus solitude.
And yet …
When I catalogue my best travel memories, they all involve people: A pig killing with Abraham and his family in rural Hungary. Wine under the twinkling garden lights with Igor and Vlasta in Bratislava. A German, a Russian, and an American drinking beer and reminiscing about their favorite beer memories in a shop (not a bar, a shop—where the salesman nonchalantly pops open three beers, sips one and passes the others to Pat and the Russian) in Berlin. Every sing-song night at the Anchor Bar in Courtmacsherry, Ireland. Every dinner I have ever shared with Katherine and Marcy in Paris.
The list goes on and on. Neighbors and writers. Photographers and fashionistas. Servers and pétanque players. The pre-planned and the serendipitous.
Grandma, I’ll miss the people.
I once wrote a post where I described Jack as my sensi. He still is.
Now, I’m juggling trips and dates. Bumping up the priority of returning to Bratislava and Budapest next fall. Fiddling with when we’ll leave Paris this October. Swinging into Montpellier, France next February.
Granted, not every trip, not every decision must revolve around people. And yet even I must admit, it’s why I travel.
And afterwards, when the trip is done, it’s why I return home.