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Vacation

I opened my eyes, rolled over, and didn’t look at the clock.

After resting a few minutes to give my body a chance to decide if it wanted to sleep a little more, I got up, walked over to my computer and did a search for “bakeries near me.” I found three within walking distance. My next task was to search my heart as to whether I wanted an almond croissant or a cream stuffed éclair.

Man, I love vacations.

That didn’t come naturally to me. When I was about six years old, we drove to Yellowstone Park to meet some cousins and when I was thirteen, we ventured to Washington State for Christmas with those same cousins. Occasionally, we fished for bullheads at the foot of Big Stone Lake, but other than that we just worked. Most of you who grew up on farms or in small towns in the 1950s and 60s can relate.

When my wife and I got married, one of our goals was to take a vacation of some sort every year and we’ve held to that, and although sometimes it was a weekend camping next to a lake, living off peanut butter sandwiches and powdered lemonade, they’re sweet memories.

We flew to Asheville, North Carolina for no better reason than we’d never been there. We worked out an itinerary more or less on the fly. It’s a great town which I highly recommend, but for me a huge high point was visiting someone who’s been my friend for over twenty years, although we’d never actually met. Back in the 90s when I was trying to find out if I was a writer, there weren’t too many role models in Otrey Township I could look to. But this coincided with the beginning of the internet, and I found a tribe of people there who could help. A woman who’d left an apartment in New York for a horse farm in Pennsylvania, an English poet, a Muslim writer of children’s books, and a writer from North Carolina. There were others, and as a pig farmer from the edge of the prairie, I blended into the group as well as anyone.

It’s hard to explain how lonely it can feel to try something that no one ever suggested was possible. I try to remember those days when I see young people trying their hand at pottery, podcasts, or pig farming, and I do what I can to support them. The people on the Writers BBS a couple decades ago probably have no idea how important they were to me, but when Carolyn and her husband agreed to meet for lunch, it was a great pleasure to remember those days when I had both hair and ambition.

On the last day of our trip, we toured Carl Sandberg’s home in Flat Rock. The visit made me feel better about my career. Mr. Sandberg won Pulitzer Prizes both for poetry and biography, something no one else had ever done, and he accomplished it not only without a college education, but without a high school diploma. He quit school at thirteen and got a job. So, if Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Carl Sandberg could muddle through as writers without a college degree, maybe there’s hope for me.

While I liked learning that fact, my favorite discovery was that Sandberg’s wife, Lillian, a brilliant scholar with a degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago, made herself into a renowned expert on dairy goats. In their house, her office is bigger than his, and I amused myself with the thought of a customer going home and telling his wife, “I don’t know what the deal is with her husband. I think he was still in bed when I got there, and he didn’t help her at all sorting goats. What a loser.”

But the trip wasn’t all about writing. It was about mountains, history, warm sun, meeting new friends and searching for the tastiest almond croissants and cream-stuffed chocolate eclairs.

Don't get me started on the shrimp and grits.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson

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