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How many of you have vacationed with extended family? How did that go? There are still a few weeks left of summer and the resorts, parks, beaches and attractions across America are jammed with tourists (not to mention the highways). Everyone is trying to squeeze as much enjoyment as possible from their precious vacation days. After weeks, maybe months of planning, the time has finally arrived to experience a little heaven on earth. Since few of us are practicing hermits, it stands to reason that fun times are best shared with others, and so we invite our immediate family along to enhance the experience. A few brave souls think that their vacation fun can be multiplied even more if they invite grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins etc., and this is the thin ice I will address in this post.

Now some people can hardly get along with themselves. These people should avoid large family vacations altogether. Even immediate family members who tag along should be prepared to do their own thing or there might be hell to pay. Adding extended family into the mix is simply out of the question. But what about the majority of people who are reasonably tolerant of others? Is it possible for a tolerant person to enjoy vacation while surrounded by loved ones besides just their own spouse and children?

When I was thirteen, my family and my uncle’s family joined forces to test this social experiment. Uncle Gene owned a trailer and motor home company in Connecticut. For years he had extolled the pleasures of motor home exploration – “See America from the comforts of your own rolling home.” It seemed like a marvelous idea to all of us.

Life on the road – what could be finer! And so it was arranged, the five of us and the four of them would pile into the biggest Winnebago known to man and set sail for adventure. Dad and Uncle Gene excitedly plotted our four week course. Starting from Connecticut, we would head north through New England, cross the border into Canada, visit relatives in Quebec, camp along the Great Lakes, re-enter the US and visit more relatives in Billings, Montana, cross the Rockies and experience several national parks, “Ooo and Ahh “ our way down the California coast, and then cruise back to Connecticut through the heartland of our great country. A few days before departure, Mom’s boss called and begged her to postpone her vacation. I don’t remember the exact emergency but our vacation ball was already rolling. Too much had been planned and any delay was out of the question. So the Nine Musketeers reluctantly became the Eight Musketeers and we waived goodbye to Mom and put the ark in gear right on schedule.

I remember we left with light hearts and songs on our lips … for about ten minutes. Uncle Gene was at the wheel, and until that moment we hadn’t realized that his second name was Mario Andretti. The Winnebago hurtled down the highway, slinging gravel and whining like an approaching tornado. After the second bird gave up the ghost to our gigantic windshield, my high-strung oldest sister lost it and started running up and down the length of the motor home sobbing crocodile tears. Dad was riding shotgun and he implored Gene to slow down for the sanity of our family, but that was only a temporary fix. I guess if you are a race car driver at heart, the lead foot never disappears for long. Dad had expected to share the driving duties, but after the first day on the road, he became the full time driver. I’m sure his “utils of enjoyment” started eroding right then, but at least we all made it back alive.

The second area of consternation had to do with my aunt and uncle’s faith. They were devout Seventh Day Adventists. Their nightly bible studies and warnings that we might be on the wrong path were one thing, but their peculiar notion that all activity, and I mean all activity, should stop at sundown on Friday and not resume until sundown on Saturday really threw us for a loop. I remember we had to camp on the side of the road instead of our resort one night when we were running late. We also missed riding horses along the Snake River in Idaho due to the inactivity rule.

The third hurdle was simply sickness. My aunt managed to catch some type of jungle fever complete with projectile vomiting that she graciously shared with my cousin, Lori and my younger sister, Karen. The confines of the Winnebago were ideal for this type of family activity but it threw a crimp in everyone else’s plans for much of our trip. The drive down the California coast was curtailed in favor of a shorter and less strenuous route so the girls could rest.

We all dealt with these and a dozen or more similar surprises throughout our trip. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all negative. We swam in the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior. We witnessed the grandeur of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer and Yellowstone Parks. We thrilled at a rodeo in Montana and fished in the mountain streams of Colorado. Nevertheless, eight different people had eight different agendas and ideas on how best to do things. This was too much, even for a tolerant person, to deal with. I’d be lying if I said there were no fireworks or arguments on our trip. Mom greeted us when we rolled back up our driveway in Connecticut. She asked if we had fun and it took several days to tell her all our stories. They mostly went , “We had the greatest time ever….except for this, that and the next thing.”

So be forewarned. Vacationing with extended family can be a beautiful thing for some people, but I’d love to meet them because their tolerance levels must be off the charts. After Mom had heard our adventures several times over, we finally got around to ask her if the four weeks without us were the worst weeks of her life. She simply replied, “They weren’t too bad…kind of relaxing.” I’ll always remember her contented smile when she said that.

From Gary the Fishing Guy – Have a great weekend and enjoy this recipe for Shrimp Rolls!

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