I remember that question. It was how I started the first day of school up until high school. I’d sit and stare at that blank piece of paper while listening to the frantic and furious scratching of pencils around me. What did I do? I’d gnaw on my pencil to kick my memory into gear.

Finally, after what felt like hours of free time, the teacher would ask students to share out. My hand went up more when I was in elementary school than when I got older. At the time, I think it was because my summer vacations were always the same.


I’d listen to tales of families cramming into the station wagon and going camping, driving across the country, or flying to Europe or Cabo.

Me? I went to summer school. Not because I had to. Nope. I was one of “those” kids. I went because I wanted to. I LOVED learning! There was nothing more fulfilling than finding out new information. Hell, the summer between fifth and sixth grade, I actually set up my own summer school in a neighbor’s garage. I had desks and workbooks and everything. I taught math.

I read voraciously. I read Heinlein, Tolkien, and Homer. I devoured Terry Brooks and Frank Herbert. Newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes…nothing was safe from me.

I also wrote. I kept a notepad by my bed to jot down the dream fragments I remembered in the morning and I wove them into fantastical tales. I wrote poems about my cat and the sunlight streaming through the curtains in my bedroom.

But the family trip was the crowning event of the whole three months. It was only three days, but it was pure magic. Mom, Dad, brother and I would go to the train station early in the morning and take the train to Del Mar. I will never forget the year Mom got mooned by one the surfers on the beach. She talked about that day every time we’d get on a train.

Once we got to Del Mar, we’d spend the day playing the ponies. Yup. I learned to gamble at a very young age. We’d look at the horses and while my dad and brother would pour over the racing form, comparing bloodlines and race histories, Mom and I would make our choices based on which horse was prettier or which jockey wore the coolest designs. And of course, had to bet on number four in the fourth for Mom and seven in the seventh for me.

After staying overnight in a quaint little hotel right on the shore, we’d jump back on the train and spend the next day at the Happiest Place on Earth. My brother and I would grab the ticket books and we’d be off on adventures. Meetings were set by watch and location. Noon at Snow White’s wishing well for lunch, then family time until dinner at the French Market or the Hungry Bear. Fireworks before bed and the night was passed in another hotel room.

Morning and time to grab a shuttle to Knott’s Berry Farm. Breakfast and dinner were at Mrs. Knott’s, pancakes and boysenberry syrup in the morning and fried chicken at night. The day was filled with panning for gold, riding the train and the stagecoach and gorging on funnel cake. Then, back to the train depot and homeward bound.

Did I envy the tales of castles and cathedrals? Would I have rather skipped around oceans and played on foreign beaches?

Not for a second. Why didn’t I share out more? Maybe because I wanted to keep these memories just for me.

So, what did I do on my summer vacation? I lived, I laughed, and I loved. And I don’t regret one minute of it.