Remember how much fun it used to be to go home for the summer? For some there was the car ride, complete with a fried chicken box lunch, songs, games, and fun. For others, it was the joy of the train: the packing, the hurrying to the station, then fighting for the window seat and watching the towns speed by until finally the houses were miles apart, then you knew you’d arrived.
Upon arriving, Grandma and Grandpa always came out of the house to meet you as you drove up. Then, after much fussing and cooing — “My but you’ve grown since last summer! That child’s growing like a weed!” — it was up the stairs to get settled in comfortable rooms where Mommy or Daddy’s old toys still rested in the corner, waiting for the return of their owners. Then it was downstairs to the dining room for one of those fabulous meals that only Grandma could prepare. The table groaned under the weight of succulent glazed country ham, crispy fried chicken, spicy collard greens, corn on the cob dripping with butter, creamy potato salad, fluffy rice and all of the fruits of Grandma’s canning labors: watermelon, pickles, pickled pears, corn relish and chow chow. You’d eat until you were too stuffed to move. Sitting back with one of grandma’s favorite cool drinks — minted iced tea or tart lemonade — everyone would push the chairs away from the table and tell stories on each other when they were children.
Occasionally aunts uncles who still lived in the area would drop by for dinner, and the whole affair took on the trappings of a family reunion. Aunt and uncles Would tell “can you top this” stories and convulse with laughter while floating on waves of nostalgia — aided slightly by Grandma’s homemade blackberry cordial. You’d sit around the table, feeling very much like part of a unit — one of the continuum and very much within the circle of the clan. It was a magic time.
Many of us have lost this magic time. We no longer go home for the summer. In many cases, we may no longer even have a “home” in the South. Relatives may have died or moved to other areas of the country. But we don’t have to let the lack of immediate kin in the South spoil our pleasure.
This summer, why not try to recapture the joy and the wonder of youth. Go south for the summer. If you still have relatives there, go visit them. Even if Alex Haley’s Roots rolled off your back like so much water on a duck, it’s different in the bosom of your own family, listening to the tales of your own kin.
If you go home, take care and do it right. Don’t hop on to the first plane headed in that direction. Take your time. Remember that half of the thrill of going when you were younger was in the preparation and the voyage itself. Drive down or take a train or bus. Amtrak, Trailways and Greyhound have low fares, and trains and buses now are more comfortable than ever before.
If you take the car, again do it right. Don’t stop on the way to munch at a fast food joint; stay up the night before and fry up some chicken, the road looks lovelier when seen over a tightly gripped chicken bone. Think of all the old jokes. Smile to yourself and remember the good times; even if you got lost, you could find your way home by simply following last year’s trail of chicken bones. Leave all of the hassles and the problems of the city behind. Relax and shed the cares and worries that go with urban life.
Some of us haven’t been on a train for years. [Again don’t forget the compulsory fried chicken box lunch.] Getting to the station and boarding the train will evoke memories of times past and the sound of the wheels on the rails will seem to say, “welcome home, welcome home, welcome home.”
Look up old friends of the family when you get there and look for old places. Even if you no longer have relatives in the area, go back and visit the old spots. See the changes and marvel at the things that remain the same. Savor the essence of things past and unwind. Going south for the summer can provide you with a fresh perspective on where you’ve been and prepare you for the places that you’ve yet to go. It’s an experience that can’t be beat.
You might want to check out Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass. For less than $200 you can travel for
14 days to wherever you like, making as many stops as you choose. So if your relatives are scattered over the country, you can pay a quick visit to them all.
If you decide to go by bus, remember adults can carry as much as 150 pounds of luggage free of charge. Remember that the key to travel by road or rail is comfortable clothing. And keep a sweater or shawl handy in case the air conditioner over works.
If you want to stop at a hotel or a motel along the route, the bus companies can arrange accommodations in standard hotels for $15 or less.