The definition of vacation is “a specific trip, usually for relaxation, recreation and tourism.” The key word there for most people would be ‘relaxation’. Prior to five years ago, taking a vacation was about the last thing on my mind. I worked, I played golf, I played guitar in the evenings with a glass of scotch, and I went to bed. That was pretty much my life. But then when April and I got together and I was suddenly the father to her two daughters, I soon realized that vacation was a regular part of family life. I was often asked by all three of my lovely ladies, “Where are we going this year? Are we going to Destin again? Can we go snorkeling? Can we rent a boat and go to Crab Island? Can we go parasailing?” The list of “can we’s” seemed to be never-ending. And expensive.
As the family accountant, or the “money Nazi” as the girls like to call me, the relaxation part becomes more difficult as the vacation nears. The cost of renting a condo, gas, flights, rental cars, and daily expeditions can be daunting. Not to mention the food. And the price tag just keeps getting higher. I know there are less expensive ways to go to the beach, but these are memories we are making, right? So even though staying at Motel 6 is tempting, I generally bend to their wishes. This year was no exception. We got a beautiful condo right on the beach in Destin, Florida. We would leave during the last week of June and stay through the Fourth of July weekend.
Under normal circumstances, my group of ladies has the tendency to be emotional, dramatic, whiny and sometimes downright grumpy during the ten-and-a-half hour drive from east Texas to the beautiful white beaches of the Emerald Coast. You would think that by now I’d be used to being the only testosterone life raft floating in a sea of estrogen, but it’s not uncommon to see me red-faced and confused. So how do you remedy that? Well, I don’t know what I should have done, but I know what I did. I invited two more females to join us.
Yes, you read that right. My wife April’s best friend since the sixth grade, April Hicks (or April H. as I’ll call her for the remainder of this story), and her daughter Maggie were going with us. Seven women and girls. And me. In one car. In one condo. For a whole week. I was equal parts happy and terrified.
April H. and Maggie recently suffered a terrible loss. Only five weeks prior to our vacation, April’s husband Todd passed away after an awe-inspiring battle against ALS. For five years, he courageously fought this incurable disease, knowing full well what his fate would someday be.
Once Todd was laid to rest, April H. and Maggie had to begin a new journey. And April and I thought that taking them on vacation, away from the worries and stresses that they’ve endured for the last several years, would be a great start. So a few weeks later, we all headed to Destin.
I could feel Todd watching over us as the car pulled away, and I believe he was laughing. We left early in the morning so the girls could sleep through the first three or four hours of the trip. They didn’t wake up until we were nearly in Mississippi. And then they listened to music, and watched movies on their iPads. They laughed and they looked at the battleships in Mobile Bay and watched for dolphins at Pensacola Beach. They didn’t fight, or cry, or scream. It was the most problem-free, stress-free cross-country trip that any of us could have ever dreamed of. It was almost too good to be true, but we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The Aprils and I were ecstatic.
As we pulled up to our condo, the kids were already getting antsy to get to the beach. So we let them get their swimsuits on and everyone went down to the water while I unloaded the car. I joined them as soon as I could, and we played for a few hours, then dressed for dinner. I had the best plate of oysters I’ve ever shoved into my pie-hole, while drinking a Yuengling Lager, which is my favorite beer and can only be found on the East Coast. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but if the rest of this vacation went like the first day did, then this was going to be the greatest week anyone had ever had.
The next morning we packed our beach bags, filled coolers and headed out. The water was cold and the waves were rough. The Aprils set up camp on the beach, and the kids and I jumped in the ocean. I could feel the stress leaving my body as the cool waves broke over my shoulders.
After thirty minutes, I headed back up to the Aprils on the beach. When I walked up to them, I could tell that their attitudes were somber. Each of them was dabbing her eyes behind her sunglasses, undoubtedly wiping away tears. Clearly, they were talking about Todd. I said, “Hey girls,” and grabbed a beer from the cooler, and then sat down. April H. said, “What do I do? I am a thirty-five-year-old widow. How do I go on without him?” More tears now from both of them. Then April H. said, “And what about Maggie? How do I raise her alone? She needs a daddy! I’m just so scared.” I said the same old cliché things that everyone always says when something bad happens, “You’ll be fine. You are strong. You just need time to heal.” But I felt like these words were weak and empty. We gave her a hug, and wiped away our tears. I then stood up and headed back to the water.
A few minutes later, April H. came out to where we were playing. She is not very tall, and the waves were big. A few of them crashed in over her head. My eleven-year-old daughter Emma was laughing. She said to her, “April, sometimes when those great big waves come in, I just close my eyes, grit my teeth, and let it happen. They knock me down, but I just get back up again.”
In that instant, I knew that the words I had struggled to find had just rolled off the tongue of an innocent little girl. I said, “There’s your words of wisdom,” and April H. smiled. Life can be full of big waves and rocky seas. Sometimes they knock you down, but you just have to keep getting up.