Summer vacation

Summer vacation. August 2022:

Ryan and Charlie on Crystal Lake

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.

Jack and Charlie finally meet

For a week we will do northern Michigan things—tube and swim and hike the dunes.

Jack discovers 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.”

Every night, this

Flash forward.

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.

Tubing the Platte

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.

Uncle Ryan!!

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.


Categories: Ruminations

Tags: , , ,

20 replies

  1. The post makes me so happy. I’m the matriarch of a family of Interlochen campers and Academy grads and am, myself, a two-year employee, having played piano in the dance and musical theatre departments. My partner and I spent an evening in Beulah this summer. My son and DIL just bought a house 10 miles from Interlochen on a small no-wake lake through which the Platte River runs. So much wonderfulness in that part of the world. Thanks for sharing your experience. 💙

    • Oh wow. What a small world!

      My husband was a counselor at Interlochen in 1976. He saw the likes of Van Cliburn perform there. Great memories! When he goes alone, he likes to camp at Interlochen State Park.

      • Wow. I knew you and I had IBM in common, (8 years in the 80s for me) but I had no idea your husband and I shared Inty. My son graduated from the Academy in ’94, and his now-wife, who teaches dance at camp each summer, graduated in ’96. We three and all my grandchildren are who they are because of Interlochen.

  2. Your posts always make me smile. And as my husband is about to retire – happy in his arm chair, I imagine my life like yours not afraid of any adventure. And isn’t it always the unexpected (good) surprise that makes it all worthwhile. Oh, and family too.

    Keep posting, please!

  3. I am with Jack! It’s the people always! We have many family “assemblies”…4th of July at one son’s farm, Thanksgiving in NH this year. They are always wonderful especially seeming all the grands getting together.

    You mention Katherine and Marcy…Tilton? Just wondering…


      • A pretty perfect combo, to be sure! Hope you and Pat are doing well. Your vaca sounded like Heaven. My family vacationed for years at White Lake in Montague MI – also just off Lake Michigan. My dad’s plant closed for retooling every summer and he took 3 weeks so we could go back to the same spot, renting one of several funky cottages at an even funkier
        “Resort”. We had a group of families from various places who always tried to be there at the same time and between them and several permanent residents at the lake our 3 weeks were filled with such good times. My brother recently sent me an article about the old Ravenswood and its history. Ah, memories! Jack will keep his memories close to his heart.

      • That’s incredible Kathe. Making memories with Jack has taken on such a significance. I’m glad you have these! (And thank you for sharing)

  4. Sounds like the perfect family summer trip!

    I first started to follow your blog shortly after meeting Igor in Slovakia, where I was staying with a group as part of a Europe-wide project on volunteering. Like you, we were treated to warm hospitality and came to love the country, even after the briefest glimpse. I feel as though your life story – work, travels, retirement, family – is in many ways in step with my own experience. Your writing style is very engaging and I love to catch up on each instalment of your blog.

    Thank you!

  5. I could hear you while reading this post. Thank you for this post – it brought me joy! The family photo (minus Pat) is just beautiful.

  6. Julie,
    I truly enjoy reading your blog. THANK YOU
    again for sharing!!
    It’s a cold snowy day in COLORADO, although waking up to a Colorado snow is always a site , I was disappointed the storm kept me inside vs doing all my errands and not being able to check off all the items on my “to do” list. As I read your story it made me reflect on how I need to STOP and enjoy the beauty that is right in front of me.

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