Setting sail for new lands, with the kids

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

June 6, 2013

Setting sail for parts unknown, kids in tow

Brave men first explored our world, traveling great distances into the unknown at even greater risk for the glory of riches and the adoration of kings and queens. I’ve read about these guys. I’ve seen the documentaries. They sailed over the oceans with casks of wine and whole hogs, spices, muskets and gold doubloons. They even took smallpox with them.

You know what you never see? Their children.

How much faster would Ferdinand Magellan have circumnavigated the globe if he’d had a passel of snot-nosed sailors asking when they were going to be there, when they were going to stop and eat, and whether there would be an indoor play land when they did stop.

I propose that Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Ponce de Léon and the like left home for uncharted waters and dangerous lands because they just needed a few hours of peace and quiet; a day without “SpongeBob SquarePants” and being asked: “Where’s Mom?”

It’s time again for our annual vacation, and in the spirit of those great explorers, I took my Sharpie to a map and drew the distance of a day’s drive around Memphis. What I found was that Sharpie does not wipe off an Apple MacBook screen so easily. I also found that we could have gone to Springfield, Ill., Kansas City, Mo., or Cincinnati, Ohio.

But we didn’t. We raised the sails on the Mazda minivan and traveled south — we almost always travel south — and found ourselves in Eufaula, Ala., birthplace of Lula Mae Hardaway, mother of Stevie Wonder, and Motown’s Martha Reeves.

We spent a night at Lakepoint Resort, adjacent to the national wildlife refuge Lake Eufala, and within a 1,220-acre state park. It also had, my kids were thrilled to find, a swimming pool.

Vacation isn’t all fun and games, and we learned some things as we passed a day sightseeing in the antebellum town square where the historic homes and storefronts have been preserved since the Civil War. I learned, for instance, that the pristine nature of the tree-lined streets is due in part to a welcoming party meeting the Union Army outside of town with white flag in hand at the close of the war. It would be like meeting a guest at your front door to ask them to remove their shoes so as not to attract mud and dirt onto your new carpet.

Eufaula was merely a jumping-off point for our vacation, and we soon piled back into our schooner to set sail for Florida’s beaches of South Walton County and the quaint villages along Scenic Highway 30A.

In the small community of Dune Allen, there was only one activity to hold my attention. I spent days sitting on the beach and staring at the horizon, imagining explorers who sailed over it, never knowing what to expect; never knowing there would one day be tourists baking themselves with the backdrop of souvenir stands and pastel condominiums. They never imagined that their descendants would one day willingly pack up their children for a similar voyage, one that has taken us past horizons and history to claim a rectangle of beachfront for ourselves. It’s a new world built from salt and sand that I implore these children not to track into our house.

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