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0 Boating Adventures | "Family Traditions" | Article and 6 Photos by Vicki Totten

Family traditions can be tricky. Sometimes it is only upon reflection that we discover the value in what may have seemed obligatory at the time. I found myself thinking about this after a recent cruise to Grand Cayman and Key West. The trip was my sister and mine's effort to continue a family tradition that began when I was 34 years old and has continued for the past 29 years. It was our Grandmother who began the tradition, which was for the women in our family to take an annual trip together.

One of our early cruises with the four of us.

The very first trip we took was a cruise. I remember my exact age because I happened to be in my first trimester of pregnancy. That meant part of my time was spent in a prone position, eating saltine crackers to settle my stomach before attempting to stand on very wobbly legs. I suspect, however that the seed which eventually blossomed into my love of boats was planted during that first of many cruises taken with my Grandmother, Mother and sister Sandy. I know for certain that my snobbery about cruises being for "old people" was eventually squashed, as was my dismissal of casinos. Since cruising and gambling were my Grandmother and Mother's two favorite types of trips to take, they eventually wore me down.

This was probably in British Columbia, judging by the beautiful flowers.

Admittedly, taking a trip with my Mother and Grandmother was not always at the top of my list of things I wanted to do on vacation.  However, since my smart grandmother paid for them, my sister and I somehow always managed to clear our busy work schedules.  After my Grandmother died, our Mom took over the tradition.  Now that it is just my sister and I, the tradition provides us with a good reason to get together once a year, although the trips are very different without the two of them to care for. 

While my sister and I didn't pay for these trips, they were not exactly free for she and I.  Our job was to plan the trip, arrange all of the details, be in charge of the "bank," be the navigator and driver if we were renting a car, and basically tend to whatever needs either of them had.  Our Grandmother lived until she was 93 and our Mom until she was 82, so toward the end of their lives, the trips usually also involved at least one wheelchair.  Our destinations included several trips to Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, many states in the U.S. and countless trips to Las Vegas.

Our Mom ended up needing a wheelchair before our Grandmother did.

In addition to helping me overcome my biases about the extravagance of a cruise or a gambling trip to Vegas, these trips helped me come to appreciate some of the challenges and gifts the two of them had. While my grandmother was the most easy going person you could ever meet, our Mom tended to be what might be referred to as "high maintenance."   What they both shared, however, was a tremendous sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves, which helped foster my sister and mine's ability to do the same.  And I suspect that also is at the root of how the tradition was able to continue year after year.

There were so many moments that never would have been captured had it not been for "the tradition."  I discovered during these trips that my Mom's favorite breakfast food was cookies.  Another discovery was that she never met a stranger.  Whenever we would get on an elevator, my sister and I would sometimes look at each other and begin silently counting to see how long it took before our Mom began talking to some stranger who happened to be sharing the elevator with us. 

The first time my Mom ever walked on the beach was on one of our trips.

Or there was the time during the trip we took to the Bouchard Gardens in Victoria Canada.  By that time, we often would use a wheelchair to push both of them.  That day I happened to be pushing my Mom. At the time, I probably weighed 110 pounds and she weighed almost twice that much.  Somehow we got off of the handicapped trail and found ourselves on a rather steep gravel path headed right into a major crosswalk filled with pedestrians, some who were anxiously watching our approach.

As we began rolling down the steep path, I began to lose control of the wheelchair.  My sister could see this was happening because the heels of my tennis shoes were digging into the gravel, leaving a huge gash in the gravel path behind me.  My Mom, sensing possibly that we were going faster than I intended, was also getting a little panicked.  But since she had a tendency to always be a little anxious, my pat response was always "no, things are fine."  As I was repeating this mantra, I glanced over at my sister, whose eyes reflected the same fear I was feeling in that moment. When I was finally able to halt the forward movement of the wheelchair just in time to avert disaster, my sister and I laughed so hard we almost had a different kind of accident. 

Bouchard Gardens on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

While there was much laughter on these trips, some of my memories of them are very bittersweet.  On that first cruise when I was pregnant, my sister and I entered our beloved Grandmother in a contest for "Queen of the Cruise."  The essay we wrote about her won, which caused our Grandmother to become a celebrity on the ship.  She had to go on stage to receive her prizes and flowers, and so afterward whenever people would see her on the ship, they would refer to her as the Queen.  That is such a sweet memory and it made our Grandmother happy - probably more so because we felt moved to nominate her than by the actual honor itself. 

But the real value of those trips for me was that they enabled me to discover parts of who they were away from the familiarity of each of our homes.  I never would have known that the view from a condo we rented on the water in British Columbia could bring tears to my Mom's eyes, or that my Grandmother loved riding in a Gondola on Mount Whistler and was a true adventurer in her own quiet way.  

Playing catch with a snowball with my Grandmother at Mt. Whistler.

And so, my sister and I are continuing the tradition, and sometimes we even have friends or my husband join us now.  But the trips will always be our way of honoring the tradition our Grandmother began all those years ago.  

Now if I could just convince my sister that, since she is older than me, she should pick up the part of the tradition where the oldest person pays for the trip. 

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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