They’re known in the business as “navel-gazers” — highly personal columns that require no research. I try not to write them, mainly because the contents of my navel are a lot less interesting than what’s going on in Greater Akron. But occasionally a personal experience feels like something worth sharing, such as this one from 1994. In some ways, writing this type of column takes more guts than expressing a controversial viewpoint or confronting a person in power because you’re laying yourself wide open to all comers. But if it’s an honest column, most comers will find something in it that strikes a chord.
— Bob Dyer
I’ve gotten a bit jaded about vacations. If it doesn’t include a beach, a pool, a luxury condo, boats, booze and wall-to-wall sun, I’m generally not interested.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered a vacation paradise right here in Akron. In November, no less.
What makes me think you’d be interested in how I spent my November vacation? Only that, on the eve of Thanksgiving, it may serve as a reminder that some of life’s best moments are the ones that are the least choreographed and the most basic.
The fabulous vacation day in question cost me all of seven bucks.
With my 6-year-old in school and my wife Christmas shopping, I took my 4-year-old out to lunch, just to get out of the house.
First, Kimmie and I drove down to the Merriman Valley and went to McDonald’s, the one with the giant tropical fish. We sat right in front of the main tank. A leisurely lunch? Let’s put it this way: We stayed so long that we were on a first-name basis with the fish.
Kimmie named them. There was “Big Eyes,” for obvious reasons. And “Bumpy,” with ragged gills. “Rain” had vertical white markings. She talked about what the fish were thinking. She worried about the “shy” one who hid out in the rocks.
Finally we headed home via the big Smith Road hill. On a whim, we turned into Seiberling Naturealm. Odd day to visit a park. Cloudy, brisk, a Tuesday. Other folks had more sense: We saw only three people during the first five minutes, then not another soul for the next hour.
Kimmie helped me read the park map as we began our hike — our “ad-VEN-ture,” as she called it.
Some adventure. Every 5 feet, she kept stopping, picking up acorns, knocking fungus off dead trees with her little walking stick. I found myself getting mildly irritated. I wanted to push on, to see where the trails led. Hey, the map shows another lake — let’s find it!
But finally, the light bulb came on. I suddenly realized that Kimmie knew a lot more about using the park than I did.
It’s about stopping, not charging ahead. It’s about seeing what’s right in front of you, not racing off over the next hill.
Soon I was helping her pick up acorns and knock “the fuzz” off dead trees. Whenever we decided to move on down the path, we took turns leading the way — hopping on one foot, walking backward, skipping.
We hung out with the chipmunks and squirrels. We poked our sticks into puddles of water that had welled up inside knots in trees. We made up stories.
She sounded out the letters in a “No Fishing” sign. Then she wondered whether the ducks on the pond were going to die someday.
“Everything dies eventually, honey.”
Got me on a technicality. “Only living things.”
We talked gently about death, about relatives who had come before. She wanted to know if there was a heaven for ducks.
She seemed to give equal weight to the concept of death and to acorns. Just more factoids for her little organic computer.
Only later did I realize that part of the magic of my day came because I had spent it in the present tense. I wasn’t fretting about what Kimmie might be like when she grew up, or what time we had to be home, or what I had to do the next day. We hung out until we were good and ready to move on.
I also realized I had right before me the best gift I would get this or any other holiday season: a healthy, bright, cute, inquisitive little girl who enjoys hanging out with Dad. The ultimate gift. And for once I was smart enough to cherish it — every word she spoke, every laugh, every little-kid question.
For a while, we froze time. She was 4. I was her undistracted father. We were buddies, out on an “ad-VEN-ture.”
No matter what happens to either of us in the months and years to come, I will always have that cloudy afternoon in Akron.
Vacations just don’t get any better than that.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.