The Simple Life
By Michele Meier Vosberg
Following in the Footsteps of Greatness
This, I decided, was the year to experience the ultimate educational and relaxing vacation. It was an example of travel planning at its finest. My husband and I decided to take our daughters, ages eleven and fourteen to Virginia. My husband’s brother, his wife and their ten year old son and thirteen year old daughter would join us. The kids get along well, and we thought they could entertain each other while the adults enjoyed relaxing evenings. Virginia is rich with historical tradition. We envisioned being immersed in United States history, soaking up cultural knowledge and feeling a sense of America’s roots. We would follow in the footsteps of America’s forefathers and expose the kids to a bit of history in a painless, fun manner.
Day one was glorious. We started at Charlottesville, and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. I admire Thomas Jefferson, a Renaissance man, a great thinker and the man who said, “I cannot live without books.” Even if he did sleep with his slave, Sally Hemings, Jefferson is my kind of guy. He is interesting. He had passions for gardening, music, architecture and exploration. It’s hard to argue with a man who declared that we all have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Monticello was beautiful. We enjoyed walking around the house and gardens and the kids tolerated the educational aspects of the tour.
We ate dinner at a tavern which served colonial style food. Some of the vegetable dishes were a bit odd, (sweetened stewed tomatoes) but the kids got their fill with chicken and biscuits. The adults decided to tour Jefferson Vineyards. Knowing the kids would not be interested, we parked the car at the farthest part of the parking lot and let them stay behind. They cranked up the volume on the CD player and sat contentedly listening to bad music while we tasted wines. It was a brilliant compromise and I congratulated myself on how well this was all falling into place.
Day two opened with a trip to Jamestown, home of Captain John Smith and land of Pocahontas. The children were less than enthusiastic, but my daughter agreed to go if I promised she would not have to eat any more “old food.” Jamestown included recreations of a Powhatan village and James fort. We could walk in and out of houses and aboard the recreated ships. The kids were mildly amused, that it until I insisted they put on a Miles Standish style metal hat and vest so that I could take a picture. This they considered teenage torture at its finest. I’m threatening to use the resulting photo of grimacing faces in Jamestown garb on the annual Christmas card.
Next we toured Berkeley Plantation, home of William Henry Harrison. It was home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a president, and that president’s grandson, who was also a president. I thought the kids would go in for the luxury of a plantation. George Washington slept here. James Madison ate at the dining room table. During the Civil War, George McClellan’s Army of 140,000 camped out on the lawn. Old Abe himself walked these paths as he reviewed the Union troops. My children were not impressed. They wanted to go to the mall.
Colonial Williamsburg was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The kids were done with historical adventures. They did not want to walk into any historical buildings and see anybody doing anything historical. They perked up at the mention of the burning, in effigy, of an English Lord, but became disenchanted when they found out it wasn’t a real burning and no one was going to die. To top it off, our beautiful, sunny, warm weather turned cold. A costumed woman at the Raleigh Tavern informed me that this was the coldest day of the year so far this season.
Of course it had turned cold, because the next day we were due at Virginia Beach. We were not naïve enough to believe that we were going to swim in the Atlantic Ocean in April. We just wanted a few nice quiet days, walking along the beach and enjoying the sunshine. I wanted to sit and read a few books, the girls wanted to get tan. The hotel had an Olympic sized pool, basketball courts and a game room for the kids. The kids would be entertained and we could all relax and enjoy a few well deserved days.
The pool was closed for maintenance. The basketball rims were broken. There were no ping pong balls for the tables in the game room, which was through the garage. But the ocean was there, beautiful and blessedly deserted. We gathered some lounge chairs (out of seasonal storage) and headed for the beach. It was sunny and warm, if a bit windy.
My nephew tested the water, and after about five seconds told us that he had no feeling in his legs. The wind started to kick up. We circled our deck chairs to block the wind from the girls, who were lying on the sand, trying to get tan. There was little risk of skin cancer, since before long they were wrapped up in blankets. I could just imagine the hotel workers laughing at us from up the hill. “Look at those pathetic losers from Wisconsin, basking on a deserted beach in the middle of winter.” We lasted an hour. We may not have gotten a tan, but we were sporting some mighty fine wind burns.
By Friday, we all admitted that perhaps this vacation was not all it was cracked up to be. The highlight of the week was when the kids commandeered the video camera. They walked around the hotel, interviewing the concierge and creating a video “diary” of our week’s adventures. It was the most fun they had all week. The video was hilarious, and I admit, a less than flattering portrayal of our family vacation. That’s us, I thought, following in the footsteps of greatness.
Chevy Chase would be proud.