As a kid, I remember going back to school in the fall and having to write essays with a title much like the one above. I can honestly say, most of my classmates' essays ran along a scale from mundane to totally boring. In my little kid opinion, this was because they didn't actually take a vacation away from where they lived.

I never had any problems coming up with something interesting to write about, because our family almost always took a summer vacation far from where we lived.

When we resided in Montana, those trips took us to Glacier and Yellowstone parks, then farther west to Seattle, out to the Long Beach Peninsula, then down the west coast all the way south to Tijuana, Mexico and back.

When we moved to South Dakota, we'd head to Montana first and then make the same trip, usually. There were also multiple trips to New York City, more often than not, to observe a relative's passing. These were always a heady mix of time spent bouncing between different groups of our Italian relatives' homes for gigantic meals and sightseeing, shopping and walking until your feet throbbed with pain.

During our west coast excursions, we ate extraordinary meals in San Francisco, were awestruck by giant Sequoias and Redwood trees, wandered through the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park until our vision blurred, got doused with water and fell in love with dolphins and orcas in the long defunct Marineland and also at SeaWorld.

Of course we stayed at and explored the "happiest place on earth" many times, only to discover that if our bi-polar father became enraged about something, no place, not even Disneyland was happy and barely safe. This was an unfortunate occurrence during almost every trip we ever took. Sadly, we came to think of it as the price you paid for the vacation.

We also had the privilege of attending three phenomenal World's Fairs; the Seattle Century 21 Exposition in 1962, Expo 67/Montreal World's Fair and Spokane's Expo 74. Each of these left me with distinct, vibrant, and vivid memories.

Seattle (for me) was all about the uber-modern Space Needle where we ate a sumptuous dinner and I promptly fell asleep in a huge, comfy, black leather chair, while the needle slowly rotated above the sparkling city. Spokane introduced us to magical, steel drum music, which we all reveled in on a warm evening sitting by the river as the tropical sound filled the space around us.

The Montreal expedition was memorable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was we arrived in the city at night with no place to stay. My dad mistakenly believed there must certainly be a motel somewhere with something for 5 people. Apparently the world really does show up for a World's Fair!

He happened to have a chat with a gas station attendant who only spoke French, (which was no problem for my multi-lingual dad) asking him about places to stay. The gentleman told him there were no motels or hotels in the area with vacancies, but he had a friend who would be more than happy to put us up for the evening.

His friend, Pierre LaPorte and his wife Francoise, were generous, kind, soft-spoken French-Canadians who took in five weary travelers for absolutely no compensation. My parents kept in touch with them via Christmas cards for a short period of time after that.

LaPorte had been a journalist and then a member of the Quebec National Assembly. In 1970 he was appointed Vice-Premier and Minister of Labor. That same year he was kidnapped and killed by a paramilitary, separatist group pushing for Quebec's sovereignty.

I'm not sure why, but his death affected me deeply at the time. To me he was simply a nice man with a family, who had been remarkably gracious to people he didn't even know. Why would anyone do something like that? Politics were still an unknown entity to me then.

To say I learned a lot on my summer vacations would be a drastic understatement. I'm grateful for most of the education, but there were a few difficult courses I could have skipped.


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