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Remembering the summer vacations of yesteryear

Summer vacation. What other two words caused more excitement in a school child’s mind in late May every year?

We longed for the days of playing, reading, camping trips and whatever else we could find to do that did not involve a school.

We dove into blessed summertime with religious fervor. Never did we as children more strongly embrace scripture out of context as we did at this time with Ecclesiastes 9:10, memorized in Bible Drills — “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.”

Amen, brother! I wanted to  do everything I could as much as I could, as long as it was something I wanted, not something that was required of me. So much energy, so much to do, so little time.

Our family took vacations and day trips to my grandparents’ homes in Smithville and Walnut in Northeast Mississippi. We played in the pecan trees and gravel driveway,  walked with Gradndaddy in his garden, tossed metal washers at holes in a propped-up board, read books pulled from Nanny’s shelves and played Tiddly-Winks at her table.

We took trips to Shiloh National Military Park just a half-hour’s drive from home; to Hot Springs, Arkansas; Nashville, Memphis and North Carolina. I’m sure we went other places, but those come easily to mind.

We also trekked just a couple of blocks from the house to Battery Robinett, earthen artillery batteries constructed by Federal troops during the Battle of Corinth in 1862. My brother, sister and I played soldiers and rolled down the grassy embankments. Since the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center opened on that site in 2004, rolling down hills is no longer encouraged. And I would need help getting up and someone would probably insist on an ambulance ride and a psych eval.

We walked to the library often and spent hours there. We joined summer museum groups where we dug for fossils and learned all kinds of neat stuff.

We watched movies in exchange for bottle caps on certain days. I still have a strange affinity for Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan and the Sinbad the Sailor films with stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen.

Since becoming an adult — I started to say “growing up,” but thought better of it — I have taken my familial unit to many of the same places I loved to go as a child, plus places new to me yet familiar to the childhood of my children’s mother. As often as we could, we went to the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, and to the beaches of South Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

Since living in New Orleans, we’ve gone back many times to enjoy what we loved about the Crescent City. We’ve camped in Port St. Joseph, Florida, and rappelled in the Helen, Georgia, area.

We’ve taken a ride in a glass-bottomed boat over the fantastically-clear yet impossibly blue-green waters of Wakulla Springs just south of Tallahassee, where the underwater sequences of 1954’s “Creature from the  Black  Lagoon” was filmed.

We had lots of fun at all of those places, and I am eager to see many of them once again, but we have had just as much fun visiting the Emerald Mound Site — where my youngest son accepted his parents’ challenge to roll down the side of it — and attempting to trek around mudbaths to reach Witches’ Dance, both just off the Natchez Trace.

There’s just so much to love about the opportunity to see things and places you’ve never seen before, or haven’t seen in awhile. Sometimes the novelty of a place is its draw, sometimes the appeal is in the fact that the place is so familiar. Whichever, I’m sure you, too, have places that are dear to your memories of vacationing, and places you plan to visit many more times, Lord willing.

At this point in my life, I find myself somewhere between (1) the never-satisfied exploratory energy of my youth that wants to travel and stop at every place that catches my eye along the journey, and (2) the desire to skip the journey and just be at the destination, already.

My summer vacation this year may just involve a book and a cup of coffee somewhere (home), but that’s OK. What has always mattered about these memorable times has been who was there to enjoy them with me.

Enjoy whatever vacation you have. I’ll enjoy mine, I promise.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.