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A Little Bit of the Griswolds in Us All

I tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about the future, and I doubt that I’m in the minority. For most of us, this is partially a byproduct of our jobs. Each year from the middle of August until the end of May, hardly a day goes by that the specter of upcoming classes is not on a teacher’s mind. 

Many jobs have similar demands and result in a preoccupation that is neither comfortable nor encouraging. As the weeks and months pass, the constant demands of the jobs can become a grind. Amid the daily grind, many of us will find ourselves thinking about a future, a time or place that is a respite from our present struggles. In the modern vernacular, we are going to “our happy place”. 

Usually, when I return to work in the blistering month of August, I think about the joys of football season, cooler weather, and celebrating the holiday season with my family. In January, when all of that is in the past, the happy place becomes spring break on a cruise ship and, eventually, extended time off during the blessed summer break.

With the specter of the virus over us, everything we usually look forward to is shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. Football is actively planning a return, but I have little confidence the seasons can be played out to their conclusions. With a vaccine or treatment somewhere off in the future, plans for big holiday gatherings appear to be wishful thinking. Cruise ships are currently in mothballs, and I would not be surprised if cold fronts avoid the Gulf Coast of Texas for the next several months.

The funny thing is that almost none of the things we look forward to being near as grand as we anticipated. Our happy places turn out to be as realistic as a DollarTree ribeye steak.

One reason the Vacation movies have proved to be so popular is that we can all relate to the experiences of the Griswold family. No, we might not have found ourselves taking a theme park security guard hostage with a BB gun or having a cousin empty a chemical toilet into a storm drain, but we can sympathize and laugh at their frustrations from a distance.

Walt Disney World is a fantastic family destination, but it’s easy to tell the families who just arrived from those that have been in the park for a week. Those families that marched through the gates with such joy and anticipation on Day 1 are, a few days later, reduced to reenacting the Bataan Death March. They no longer remember why EPCOT is a must-see, but they are driven to make it through the World Showcase from Albania to Zambia.

In the epic novel Lonesome Dove, a young woman named Lorena dreams of leaving her hot, miserable life in south Texas and going to San Francisco, an ideal town she’s never visited. She repeatedly expresses her fervent desire to go west to the place of her dreams. Older and wiser, her friend Gus, a seasoned Texas Ranger, tells her:

“Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”

Each year we look forward with great anticipation to so many events and seasons, and none of them turn out the way we imagined them in the months leading up to them. Last year at this time, we were on a nice vacation, but it was far from the paradise we dreamed of. Still, I’m confident we will anticipate the next holiday with rose-colored glasses.

Maybe we all have a little bit of Clark Griswold in us and set standards that no family activity can live up to. If that’s true, then we have even more reason to learn to like the everyday little things.

No matter how rough the day, I’ve learned to look forward to a simple dinner with my beautiful wife of 40 years, leisurely exploring Costco, and visits from our 2 grandsons, who make our lives more thrilling than any other ride at Walley World.