Tuesday, November 10, 2015

8 Years Apart

This is a story of my complicated family, well, half of it at least. And the type of non-normal family vacations my complicated half family used to take. For the purposes of this story, here are the facts you need to know: My parents got divorced when I was in elementary school and throughout middle and high school, my mom dated a guy named Murphy. They were essentially married, just without the actual title of being married - they lived together, my brother and I spent weekends there, and we went on "family vacations" together. And like I mentioned before, this is a story of our last weird family vacation, and one of the most vivid memories I have of our weird family before my mom passed away in 2009. 

The photo below was taken in November of 2008 in Great Falls Park, Virginia. This was the second stop on a week long trip we took annually. Each year my mom, Murphy, my brother, and I would take a 4 day trip to Washington DC, usually in the fall around October-November. We would leave Wednesday after school, stay Thursday, Friday, and the weekend, and drive back on Sunday night so I could be back at school on Monday (get this, in high school, I actually LIKED going to school and HATED missing class, ugh who was I) anyways, instead of taking the normal family vacation to the beach every year, this was our vacation. It started when I was in 5th grade, and lasted until 2008, when I was in 10th grade. I have no idea why or how this tradition got started, because my mom LOVED the beach, but alas it was our tradition. 

As I was saying, this was the second stop on our trip. Our first stop was a two day camp/hike session at Harper's Ferry National Park in West Virginia. Which if you have never been, is a MUST SEE. It is absolutely amazing. Especially in the fall, the leaves are changing color, the temperature is perfect, not too hot not too cold, and the mountains are just breathtaking at that time of the year. And when I say "camp" I mean we stayed in a little motel 2 miles from the park because my mother would not sleep in a tent to save her life. But to her, that little motel 2 miles from the park WAS camping, so that was that. Usually we would take the whole day to hike up one of the main parts of the trail in the park, which brought you out to to a large rock overlooking most of the park. Like this: 

One year, I believe I was in either 6th or 7th grade, when we got to the top of that rock, we were all resting and eating lunch, enjoying the view, when we saw a bird flying above us. The sun was nearly at it's peak so it shadowed the bird and made it hard to see, but finally it landed about 25 feet from us, and to our amazement, it was a bald eagle. I had never seen one in the wild before, none of us had, and it was simply stunning. It was a beauty that doesn't ask to be looked at, which made us so much more in awe of it. All of the years of hiking that trail were amazing, but that year in particular stands out in my mind. 

Next after Harper's Ferry, we would drive the short trip to Great Falls Park and get another "hike" in. This short trail was much less aggressive than the real hike of the Appalachian trails at Harper's Ferry (as told by the fact that I am wearing my Ugg boots in the photo above). It was a nice little day trip, though, and the perfect segue into our few days in Washington DC. And out of all the parts of those trips, our days in DC were by far my favorite and what I remember the most. 

Each year we had our usual agenda, we would bike around to all the monuments, go see the white house, Arlington Cemetery, the National Zoo, spend a whole day walking through the Smithsonian Museums, but each year we also tried to do at least one new thing. One year we took a tour of the Capitol Building, the next we went to visit the Holocaust Museum, and one year we went up into the Washington Monument. 

555 feet of pure beauty 

This is the memory I am going to elaborate most on, because as luck (or fate or destiny or whatever you want to call it) would have it, I was in the DC area for work almost 8 years to the week of my family's last trip to DC. Now just to remind everyone of the emotional state that I am, my mom passed away on October 31st, so this year was the 6th anniversary of her passing. And me being in DC always brings back memories of our trips there, so it has always and will always be a little emotional for me, but at this time of the year especially. 

I always tell my friends I have always had a soft spot for DC, and my family's vacations there are the reason why. When I was in middle school/early high school we would spend the days in DC and I always told myself and my family that I wanted to go to college there, or live there once I was a real adult (LOL at the fact that is what I am now). I just felt right there, I loved the city atmosphere, I loved the energy, you guys - I even loved the metro, I just thought it was all so neat. And my family always agreed, that's where I belonged and I needed to live there at some point. I loved the museums and the monuments and the history and the culture, I just loved it all. Self-nominated "DC NERD" right here ya'll. 

 So naturally anytime I get to venture into DC and peruse around, I take full advantage. no-English speaking Swedish women to get on an elevator with. #AMERICA.

I was instantly transported back to 2008 when my family and I went on this exact tour. I remember that year so vividly for a few reasons 1) it was our last trip 2) It was November of 2008...that means that the election was coming up and I remember seeing Obama stuff EVERYWHERE, and later that month he would win the election 3) this was one of the first years my brother and I actually got along on these trips, which made it more fun and meSo on this particular, gorgeous day may I add, I took myself on the hour long metro ride from Maryland all the way to "the most DC thing you can think of" to the top of the Washington Monument. Granted the fact that I was alone, did not bother me, because when I travel for work, literally EVERYTHING I do is alone. But this was a problem for the security guy guiding the tour groups because his job was basically to split us into groups to send us up the elevator on together. He was confused as to why I was alone, and when he realized seriously no one was coming to join me, he stuck me with a group of tall, blonde, and almost no-English speaking Swedish women. It was a little different this time going alone, but the experience and scenery hadn't changed at all. 

To be honest, it is a lot of waiting in line. Which I didn't remember, haha. My ticket was for the 2:30 tour so I made sure I was there by 2:15 just in case. I sat in line outside the actual monument until about 3:10, when my ticket was finally stamped and me and my 8 new blonde Swedish friends made our way through the security metal detectors and inside the monument. Where we sat in line again, for about 10 more minutes, waiting for the elevator. Once you get to the top though, it is so amazingly worth it. You can see DC and the surrounding 30 miles for every direction from 555 feet up. It's simply stunning ya'll. It's true, it's about as DC as it gets. 

The Jefferson Memorial, Ronald Regan Airport, and Arlington National Cemetery

Now I'm really bad at making all of my stories have a good end, and I guess this one doesn't really have an end? But basically, I had a wonderful day in DC, all alone, hanging out 555 feet up, and then treating myself to a $5 glass of wine and walking around the Natural History Museum a little bit tipsy. It always puts me in a good mood being in DC, it reminds me of my mom, and all the happy memories we had before she got sick. It makes me feel a little bit normal reminiscing on family vacation memories, even if they are "half family weird vacation spot" memories, they are something I will always cherish, and I am so thankful that I am able to revisit the spot where so many of those memories were made. 

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