Travel Is Like Love…And Killer Bees.

Nothing gets us more excited than planning a great vacation whether it’s a romantic getaway with our spouse for some alone time, a girls trip, or a family adventure somewhere fun to make memories with the kids. Vacations are awesome! We get to rest, relax, eat some new foods, maybe take in a new experience somewhere, and really escape from life’s responsibilities for a week or so. Vacations can be so perfect for recharging and reflecting and just basking in the joys of life.

Unless you’re vacationing with the Hudgins family.

Over the years we’ve developed a bit of a reputation for our unfortunate vacations. We plan our trips, and being normal working people we don’t go somewhere every time the school calendar says “closed.”  But we do manage to take some sort of vacation once every year or two, and it’s usually been a while since our last one, so we are filled with anticipation. We can’t get in the car fast enough…

First of all, that’s a joke. We actually can’t get in the car fast, period. We are notorious for being so relaxed about this that we’ve had people leave without us, receiving the text, “We’ll just meet you there.” (not to point any fingers here, but thanks Dad).

We also make a habit of stopping at every little attraction, restroom, diner for milkshakes, shack for bbq, turtle in the road, bakery for pie, farm stand for peaches and tomatoes, or Walmart—my daughter actually got in the car with no shoes on once, nor did she pack any, so hours later on discovery of this we had to stop and buy shoes. It’s become a mission over the years to see what we can experience ALONG the way, and some of our most memorable places were found while making the journey, I’ll admit it. But maybe we are so slow and hesitant to actually get where we’re going because we know what’s waiting for us.

Let me run down just some of the highlights:

Coldest weekend on record at Disney World. Stayed specifically at the resort with the dragon water slide into the pool. It had icicles on it.

Gulf oil spill of 2010. Couldn’t get in the water or go on the beach (the least of anyone’s worries compared to the ecological disaster that was for the Gulf, and still can’t hardly joke about it because it just wasn’t funny).

Swarming Africanized bees in Arizona as we hiked up a mountain to see Indian ruins. Take an arm-flapping 3-year-old who is horrified of butterflies, much less bees,  with you for maximum enjoyment. Nothing makes for a more relaxing outing than the prospect of being stung to death by killer bees.

Monsoon rains and gale force winds at the beach for days. So strong that the pelicans flew “in place,” looked into our vacation condo, and mouthed “Go home.” We did. Two days early.

“Shark Week” at the beach.  It was redfish season so fisherman were chumming the waters. Beaches posted. Swimming was not advised. After listening to three teenagers whine all week I started “wine-ing” too and with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, saying “I’m sure if you swim at night, the sharks will be sleeping. Go ahead.”–exhale–I really don’t smoke, but that was a particularly bad trip. I sampled every vice.

A sick person on every single trip. Ear infections, fevers, viruses, rashes, kidney stones, bladder infections, pink eye, vomiting, surf board to the foot. We’ve seen every Urgent Care and emergency room in the entire Southeastern United States, some in the Southwest, and Hawaii as well. The one in Hawaii had chickens in the waiting room–wouldn’t have wanted to miss that charming bit of island culture.

Tornadoes and power outages–notice how I said tornado-es, and power outage-s. As in plural. Because one just wouldn’t have been enough.

A hidden egg sac inside the car, hatches. Suddenly we are accompanied by 300 starving baby praying mantises, each about the size of an eyelash, for the duration of our 1200 mile spring break trip. Kids, especially little girls, love being trapped inside a moving car with 300 free range insects! Think Jurassic Park–same amount of human screaming, but with much teeny-tinier dinosaurs.

Red tide. Undertow. Rip Current. Dangerous marine life—we’ve seen all the flags at the beach. Last I heard they had designed a new beach flag, symbolizing “the Hudgins are here.” It’s kinda like the skull and crossbones pirate flag, only not as cheerful.

Jellyfish breeding season— best Scuba diving trip ever, if you’re into really intense pain.

Baby accidentally gets sunburned. So she can’t go back outside for the rest of the trip meaning–neither can you. Do not start judging. She was under a tent! But still referred to as “the trip where you burned the baby?” by my husband. Let it go honey…

Beautiful helicopter ride (so I was told) over Hawaii straight to “Vomit-ville.”

Every Mardi Gras parade rained on.

Ants in the vacation rental bed.

Used condom in the vacation rental bed–I’m still recovering a little bit, emotionally, from this one.

You get my point? So when I tell you I’m a little concerned about my husband and me going to Italy for five weeks this summer I’m sure you can understand my trepidation.

Most people visiting Italy learn phrases like “how are you?” and “excuse me” and “thank you.” I’ve been working on learning phrases like, “Does this look swollen to you?

Taking our trip intercontinentally with different laws and customs opens up a whole array of new possibilities for misfortune. So I am also working on learning things like “Do I need a lawyer?” and “Stop yelling at me.” Although I’m pretty sure after five weeks of my husband and me traveling together I’ll have plenty of chances to say,”Stop yelling at me,” in English as well.

Just in case it escalates past the “Stop yelling at me” stage, I learned all the Italian words for calling someone something really derogatory too. I practiced and practiced those. I don’t want to sound like a tourist. I want to sound genuine, deliberate and like I really mean it when I’m mad and on that beautiful bridge…or in that ambulance, or emergency shelter, or police station. Honestly, if we get through the trip without an assault charge on either of us, I’ll consider the voyage a success.

And then there’s my husband who has some food allergies. So at first, I was stressed about how to convey that in Italian, but did you know that the Italian word for “Epipen” is… “Epipen?” I figure it’ll just be easier to let him eat whatever he wants and stab him in the thigh after every meal.

We’re going to be like two 4-year-olds who got dropped off in Italy. Can’t talk, can’t read. We’ll probably not even be able to cross the street alone. With our reputation of travel disasters, what could possibly go wrong? Uh…Italy could run out of wine (insert all my newly learned cuss words here).

I joke about it, because I have to. If I can’t find some humor in all our misadventures I’d never leave the house. And my husband takes some abuse, but he’s actually a very good sport and is great at finding the comedic elements in our catastrophes. He’s got a great sense of direction, and he’s patient and dry-witted–like traveling with a snap-on sandal wearing Indiana Jones, Bob Newhart, and Gandhi all rolled up into one, and I’m more like traveling with “Dora The Pissed-Off Explorer.”

For now, “Dora T.P.O.E.” here is really dreading the long flight over and her five stages of air travel:

Denial — Me: “I’m gonna get sick.”  Husband: “No, you’re not.” (this is my husband’s denial, not mine)

Anger— “What’s taking that bar cart so long? Are they waiting for the drinks to just serve themselves?! Did they run OUT of liquor?!”

Bargaining— “Honey, go flirt with the flight attendant and see if you can get me a drink. I’d go flirt with the guy flight attendant, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work.

Depression— “Well. That’s it. I’m never gonna get a drink. They can just crash us into the ocean now.”

And finally…

Acceptance— vodka’s kicked in– “Gosh, honey. I love you,” me, talking to the flight attendant.

While those friends who have traveled with us know this is all true, I’m really trying to focus on just being grateful for the opportunity and excited about all the unknown that is coming my way. I won’t have my pillow, I won’t have air-conditioning at points along the way–which is probably where the assault charge is gonna come into play, because “hot” Missy is as pleasant as an Africanized bee– but it’ll all be ok as long as someone shoves a glass of wine in my hand. I heard you even get served wine in the hospitals over there so if that’s true, I say “Kidney stone, make your move.”

I recently read a quote by the famous travel writer, Pico Iyer, that made me laugh:

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which you are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

That quote is so romantic, but Pico Iyer has never traveled seven days with 300 praying mantises and two screaming little girls in the car with him. Oh, I’ll tell you right now. That trip ends.

Relatively Speaking

For as long as I can remember, my family has had a sort of secret, unique language—ok, more of a vocabulary I’d say. I can’t imagine that I am the only one who could claim this, especially among my southern friends since southerners just automatically affix their own twists to words and sayings or at the very least they change the pronunciation of words. And I say “change” the pronunciation, because saying “they pronounce them wrong”—well, that would just be rude to someone’s grandmother somewhere, and I don’t play that game.

Being part of a family with a deep southern history spanning several generations comes with glorious opportunities to be exposed to a diverse cast of characters, each one of them only strange to your friend who is “visiting from Connecticut,” but never to you or anyone else on the family tree.

You have no trouble understanding them and their special dialect. When they use a word that doesn’t fit, you immediately know what they mean, and merely pause over the mishap while others are still perplexed. I’ve even had to say “he means…” and then launch into a quick round of Password and exchange a confirmation nod with the confused.

For example in my family, the word “salmon” has an “L” in it. It just does. They use the letter “L” in “salmon” with pride like lesbians use the letter “L” in the word “lesbian.”

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a perfectly good letter. It’s there. Why not use it?

When I was a kid we had “Sa-L-mon patties” and we ate canned “Sa-L-mon”–we didn’t call it “Sa-mon” and we didn’t eat smoked “Sa-mon”—as in smoked salmon and bagels. Oh who am I kidding? We didn’t eat bagels either.

We ate biscuits. The only thing I knew that existed for breakfast that had a hole in it was a doughnut. I walked twelve blocks for a bagel in New York City once under the recommendation of a friend and afterwards my exact words to her were, “We walked twelve blocks for this?”

You bagel-lovers please don’t write to me. I promise I won’t care that I offended you, and I’ll probably just write an entire blog entry about biscuits and pussycat gravy next week out of spite—but anyway, back to my point here…

My daddy, for one, comes with a unique ability to ardently and “creatively” pronounce anything that isn’t written on the sports page. In fact, he pronounces his order at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant so effectively he can’t even identify it when the waiter comes to deliver it. The poor waiter, standing at the end of our table with his asbestos glove, holding a dish that has been baked in Satan’s oven, calls out, “Burrito Fundido? Burrito Fundido?”

Finally as his shirt sleeve is igniting from the heat of the 900 degree plate he’s holding the waiter desperately shouts “Burrito Fundido!” My mama asks my daddy, “Don, what did you order?”

And with all seriousness, and with absolutely no sense of urgency to the waiter whose sleeve is now smoking he answers, “I don’t remember.”

The waiter, slides the molten lava burrito in front of my daddy, and then, I’m sure, he heads to the nearest burn center.

One Friday night my daddy looked at the waiter and, with conviction, ordered the “Burrito Sayonara” –yes, as if he was saying “goodbye” to his Japanese burrito.

There had been some idle chit chat going on at the table up until we heard the words escape his mouth, and we all rushed to his rescue like he’d accidentally called the waiter a racial slur.

“He means the ‘Burrito Sonora!’ ”

My daddy looks at us all confused,“That’s what I said, Burrito Sayonara,” as the waiter giggled his way back into the kitchen.

Luckily, the waiter had a great sense of humor, and when he delivered our dinner to us moments later he put my daddy’s in front of him and announced with a grin and the perfect amount of smart ass, “Burrito Sayonara.

To which my daddy turned to all of us and said, “See there! I did say it right.”

My daddy’s talents for foreign language do not just hang out south of the border, he’s quick to give us a giggle when he orders Chinese food as well, because he likes his meal to come with, not a bowl of “wonton” soup, but a piping hot bowl of “wong-tong” soup. My mama and I actually wait for it, and have to stifle our nose snorts when he says it.

For fear that someone thinks I’m picking on my poor daddy, I’ll move on to others just as deserving. My grandmother, for instance would complain that going to the grocery store on a day when they predicted snow in the Atlanta area was nothing but a “fiesta!

Of course she meant “fiasco,” but fiesta sounded like so much fun and also sounded like a margarita might be involved—that we all adopted the term. To this day anything taxing for any of us in my family gets labeled as a “fiesta,” and we laugh because, well, sometimes we wish it was.

My grandmother was also fond of “parm-eee-zian” (parmesan) cheese on her “I-I-Italian spaghetti.” She ate “Vi-eeena” (Vienna) sausages and saltine crackers and liked “Si-men-eeze” (Siamese) cats. In fact, we’ve jokingly used the word, “Si-men-eeze” so often, I have to be careful not to actually mispronounce “Siamese” when I see one.

These little nuances of individualized language are just one of the little joys a person gets to keep after you’ve said goodbye to your parents or grandparents. They stay with you, similar to the ones small children make when first learning to talk. You immortalize them, along with the people who used them, and somehow that memory and that special word or pronunciation gets to remain alive– as that person does– in your heart. And the best part? They are never, ever negative recollections.

My grandfather loved to visit any restaurant that served “cafeteria style,” and his next favorite thing was to tell you about his meal in vivid detail. I really think he enjoyed that part more than the food.

“They had the best trout a la mode you ever tasted!” He’d offer us. And if one of us said, “You mean Trout Almondine?” He’d nod and reply “Yep, trout a la mode,” without hesitation.

He was great at providing us with little idioms over the years, even ones that weren’t funny except for how literal they were–like the time he pointed to the page on a menu and told my mama to order him a “various wine,” because well, that’s how they were listed on the menu. Couldn’t fault him on that one.

One of the best parts of having toddlers in your life is some of the funny things they say. Several of which end up being permanent parts of a family’s vocabulary. My nephew frequently asked for a “cock-in-tail” for himself when my mama would pour herself a glass of wine in the evening, and referenced his full tummy after eating to feeling like he was gonna “romit.” To this day, that term is jokingly used after every big family meal at our house. Imagine my husband’s surprise, years ago, when his co-worker told him that she was flying home to India to get married and showed him a picture of her handsome fiance, saying his name was “Romit.” –sometimes life just has a shameless sense of humor.

My son, Rooster, used to love Cracker Barrel restaurant when he was a tiny boy. Anytime we traveled we’d stop for a meal, and he’d pop his head up from the back seat, see the familiar orange and brown sign, and say with such delight…

“Crackhead Barrel! I love Crackhead Barrel!”

Poor Cracker Barrel restaurant never knew how the mistreatment of their beloved name offered us such laughs just as sure as it offered us delicious chicken and dumplings.

In fact, one of my greatest fears is to end up as one of those seemingly forgotten relatives hanging on the walls of Cracker Barrel. Every time we eat there I think about it, and I find myself looking around at the old black and white photos wondering whose grandparents they are, and how their picture ended up there instead of on the dining room wall of some loving relatives’ home. Did they say “trout a la mode” too? Did they eat “Vi-eeena” sausages and saltine crackers? Did they have funny words or phrases that are still being used fondly by their younger relatives today? Can those relatives still hear their voices and their expressions in their heads? And more disturbing, how did my 3-year-old even know the word crackhead?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that Cracker Barrel doesn’t serve bagels, or “cock-in-tails,” or any “various wines,” and I’m usually so gloriously full after eating the biscuits and gravy or a big bowl of the chicken and dumplings that I wish I could…quite frankly…“romit.”