My family recently returned from a two-week Caribbean cruise. As the new tradition requires, photos are already popping up on Facebook.
The pictures show my parents, brother and sister hanging out with a miniature stuffed moose.
The moose, naturally, represents me.
I was invited to come along, but my work schedule made this unlikely. So my parents took along the moose — a souvenir of Moose Jaw, purchased in haste as a Christmas present for them late last year — in lieu of their oldest son.
Through the photos and phone calls that have followed, it’s like I’ve been able to enjoy the trip vicariously.
As it turns out, while we’re all older and wiser, family vacations haven’t changed much.
Some are relaxed, like our annual summer visits to a Christian retreat centre near Huntsville, Ont., and before that, trips to our trailer on Stoney Lake.
The trailer, located about an hour’s drive from our home in Peterborough, Ont., was sold by the time I turned five.
But I have some scattered memories: swimming in the lake; walking downhill to use the bathroom; sleeping in a small loft at one end of the trailer; getting my first electric shock by sticking a pin into a wall socket.
We loved the retreat centre: open space, activities to do, great meals at the dining hall, and cousins to hang out with.
But family road trips are consistently tense. Cramming the five of us into a minivan for days on end, followed by a week of attempts at quality time together, is an effective recipe for conflict.
Over the years, we traveled around Ontario, through Quebec to the east coast, and down the Eastern Seaboard into the U.S. There are certainly many happy memories, but often, the bickering stands out.
We went to Florida when I was 10, visiting Walt Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center. I dragged my parents onto rides they would’ve rather avoided, like Splash Mountain and Star Tours; Mom says she remembers me being hungry all the time.
Another trip took us to North Carolina, where we wandered around Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of human flight. We also visited what felt like a million lighthouses on the Outer Banks (my dad’s idea) and a similar number of thrift stores (mine).
There was our trip to Virginia, where we visited Colonial Williamsburg, and where my brother became obsessed with the fireplace in our lodgings, badgering my parents until they let him build a fire at the trip’s end. (They’d have saved themselves grief if they’d allowed it earlier on.)
One summer, we drove out to Prince Edward Island, visiting Quebec and Nova Scotia along the way. We saw Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown and visited the Bay of Fundy, but one of my fondest memories was spending a day with Dad, driving out into the boonies.
We stopped at a small seafood restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Dad ordered mussels and I had pizza sticks. I remember a woman coming in, saying she was lost, and leaving in a huff because they would only serve her seafood and not one of the kids meals.
My sister called last week and we talked about the cruise. She told me about the ship and the stops they made, but also mentioned some of the frustration.
My brother kept wandering off to do his own thing with the friends he’d made on the ship. Meanwhile, Dad drove everyone crazy by taking out the moose every time a Kodak moment presented itself.
It sounded just like old times.
I wish I’d been there.
Joel van der Veen can be reached at 306-691-1256.