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Columnist John Paradis: Time with family creates precious memories

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

Forty-five years ago this summer, my parents took me in the family camper to Burlingame State Park in Charlestown, Rhode Island, near the coast of Block Island Sound.

It was supposed to be a vacation of fishing, trips to the beach, campfires and lazy days in the sun.

It rained the entire seven days. On the first day, we hunkered down in the 20-foot RV and my parents prayed for the weather to clear. It didn’t. The steady rain became torrential.

I loved it.

We played board games. I learned how to play cards. We couldn’t get any reception on my parent’s 4-by-3-inch portable black-and-white television set, so we listened to Red Sox games on the transistor radio. Thank goodness the Sox were on the road then.

It was also the summer of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” and Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” You, know, “the baddest man in the whole damn town.” My mother didn’t like her 9-year-old singing that song over and over and over again. But she let me.

The vacation was so bad, it was good.

With summer approaching, here’s some advice to parents with young kids: don’t worry about the weather going south or doing anything fancy. Just spend one-on-one time with your children and magic will occur.

Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up and out of the house. In a fleeting moment, those days of summer will be gone. Make the most of them now. Create memories that last a lifetime.

Summer plans don’t have to be expensive. We live in the best area of the country for the sheer number and variety of affordable excursions and cheap day trips. Museums, outdoor recreation, and camping are all within reach.

The statewide “Free Fun Fridays” from the Newton-based Highland Foundation offers free admission from June 29 to Aug. 31 to more than 100 participating venues waiting to be explored.

Right here in Northampton, we have the amazing PaintBox Theatre, with great performance art and storytelling for children. Then there’s Look Park where kids can feed animals by hand at the small zoo, ride a steamer train or cool off at the water-spray park.

Area libraries have children’s rooms and summer reading activities galore.

Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, you can even gather on the Forbes Library lawn in Northampton during Arts Night Out, a free community sing-along to learn songs for the large community sing scheduled in September. Bring a lawn chair or a blanket. Practice your singing chops. Or just sit back and enjoy the music and, voila, instant fun.

One year, after our family moved back to Massachusetts from 20 years in the military, I took our kids on what I dubbed the great New England “Watering Hole and Ice Cream Tour.”

In one summer, we visited the Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest in Goshen, Laurel Lake in Erving, Savoy Mountain, Lake Wyola, and crossed the border to spots in New Hampshire and Vermont. All were within a few hours’ drive. We ended each day with ice cream at a local stand. Each day was perfection.

On my bedstand, is a picture of my family at Newfound Lake in New Hampshire from a vacation when the kids were little. My daughter, Meghan, is riding on my back in the water. My son, Connor, had just learned to swim and he is pumping his little arms and kicking his legs beside me.

It was the happiest day of my life.

I think of that moment a lot and then I think about my own childhood and what I remember.

I asked my 90-year-old father about that trip back in the 1970s to Burlingame State Park. My mother passed away nearly five years ago. They were both school teachers. With another school year behind them that year, did he and my mom mind that they had to spend a week in dreary rain with nothing to do but stay in a small camper with a fourth-grader?

Not at all, he said.

“Everybody left the campground — they didn’t want to stick around so we had the whole place to ourselves,” he remembers. “We survived the storm, and we still managed to have a good time.”

But he also had a memory that I didn’t have. He said he had eaten some bad fish at a local seafood joint and wasn’t feeling well — at all. But if he was sick, I didn’t know about it or remember it.

Torrential rain. A muddy campground. Mosquitoes that seemed as big as your hand. Eating hot dogs with soggy buns and baked beans cooked on a Coleman grill. Listening to Ned Martin and the Sox. That’s what I remembered. And I had my mom and dad all to myself for one week that summer.

There are memories you will always remember. A week in the rain in Rhode Island is one of mine.

Hike a mountain, sit around the campfire, and spend the night under the stars … or, if it rains, inside a tent or camper. New England has some incredible venues for reconnecting with nature. Go for a day of swimming, hiking, or paddling. Or visit the local library or community children’s theater.

The memories you spend with your family are the most special ones. They don’t have to cost much and they don’t even need sunshine. Go out and make them this summer. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He is a veterans’ outreach coordinator for VA New England Health Care System, and can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.