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Life or Something Like It: Recreating family vacation

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By Suzanne Darland

On Thursday, we’re taking a trip back in time.

We’ll take our middle son with us, pick up our youngest in Lexington and head for Franklin, N.C., where my husband’s family has a small vacation home on a gravel road near the top of Meadow Mountain. Our oldest son and his wife will join us Friday, driving in from Charleston, S.C.

We spent many summer weeks at “the cabin” when our children were young. It was a great place for a kid-friendly getaway where Grandpa would make walking sticks from saplings, we would go hiking, and where we could poke around downtown Franklin where old men still whittled in the square.

But we’ve not been there in several years, and the boys have been lobbying for all of us to spend a few days there together.

We’ve been on the phone with each other, making the silly jokes we used to about Wayah Bald, a treeless knob on a nearby mountain. “Why ya’ bald, Uncle Bob?” they used to tease my brother-in-law. “Remember Dry Falls where we got wet?” they remind us. We’ve been planning what we’ll eat and what we’ll do while we’re there.

I’m hoping wild blackberries along the road up the mountain will still be ripe so I can lure someone to go with me to pick some. We’ll take an empty butter spread container I’m sure is still in one of the kitchen cabinets. They’ll be good topping morning cereal.

We might look for the remains of the old mica mine the boys once found nearby. See if the neighbor still has goats. Make grapevine wreaths from the vines draping most trees.

We’ll play cards at night at the kitchen table: Uno, Rook and Hand and Foot. There’s probably an ancient box of dominos around, and they might find their way into the game repertoire as well. We spent many a night playing those games or poker using wooden match sticks or pennies for betting.

If there’s a clear night and the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, we might take a blanket outside and do some sky watching. On that mountain, we’re far away from the lights of the city, and the stars loom close. We’ve seen the Perseid meteor shower more than one August night over the years.

My father-in-law will meet us there Thursday, and as usual, he has a project in mind for the strong arms and backs that will be there. The boys have been told to bring work clothes so they can spread a pile of gravel into the ruts of the road near the cabin.

On Saturday, my sister-in-law and my niece and her new husband, whom we’ve yet to meet, also will come up.

That’s the day we’re planning a picnic at Cliffside Lake, a nearby recreation area we used to frequent. We’ll walk around the lake where one year the boys found tadpoles in the mud and left brown handprints on each other’s backs. We’ll venture out to the small dam where they tested their bravado by seeing how close they could get to its sloping edge. And we’ll dip our toes into the swimming area where the cousins once floated in their blow-up swim rings.

I will miss my husband’s mom being with us. She died in November, and the cabin just won’t be the same without a big pot of white beans simmering on the stove and a freshly baked peach pie on the counter.

We’ll sit on the side porch swing and watch the hummingbirds she loved so much as they dart back and forth to the four feeders she kept filled.

There’ll be other memories, too, of her taking the boys to one of the Franklin gem mines. They sifted through bags of small rocks looking for rubies or sapphires, washing them in a long wooden trough of muddy water.

And of walking around downtown Franklin, dropping in on the gem museum with its 385-pound sapphire, sparkly geodes and strangely out-of-place shrunken head. Definitely cool to young boys.

While I’m proud of the young men my boys have become and I’m satisfied with our almost-empty nest, for just a few days I’m looking forward to reliving some of the days when all of us were younger.

Suzanne Darland teaches journalism classes and is director of the faculty advising center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.