When I think of my childhood summers, my memories are either of my family camping or driving. And I realised recently that both hold very special places in my heart.
When my dad was little he was convinced that he actually WAS Huck Finn. He tells stories of how he’d traipse through the mountains and forests of Northern California almost wild, how he once stole a boat and drifted down a river into private property with nothing but his battered copy of the book and a really big stick. Luckily it was the 50s and my the town police officer was very understanding. But all of wild roaming and freedom that my dad felt was, I’m sure, something he wanted to pass down to my brother and I.
So despite the fact that we lived in near-isolation for many years in Alaska, still during our summers our family camped. We had our tent and our sleeping bags and our little portable stove and not much else those summers. My brother and I would tramp around hiking up mountains or swimming in lakes. We’d climb trees and run a bit wild. It was hugely fun. We’d come back to the tent in the evening where my dad would usually be lounging about reading some massive book and then we’d build up a fire and fall asleep right after food. I have very fond memories of our camping trips.
But to get to these camping places, we’d always drive. My dad didn’t fly anywhere and our road trips are memories that I will always think of well. There really isn’t any place in the world prettier than the drive down the Pacific coast. I’m constantly homesick for the Pacific ocean and for those road trips that spanned days. We’d find the oldies station on the radio and sing along badly to 50s and 60s rock and pop music or we’d play the license plate game or travel board games until we were all sick of each other. And I would read.
Because we always travelled pretty light, I always ran out of books fairly quickly. My dad would stop off at second-hand bookstores and I’d buy what I could. I always tried to go for books that I wouldn’t mind re-reading as that became a pretty sure bet. Of course, I’d always bring a few favourites with me: I remember obsessing over Matilda by Roald Dahl one summer. Another summer, it was all about Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Hatchett by Gary Paulsen really spoke to my inner wild child, as did of course The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
But I also have clear memories of some of the books I’d picked up along the way as well (though some were duds!). I remember buying a hardback copy of Durango Street by Frank Bonham that had no dust jacket and that summer I got lost in a story about gang members which had a pretty big impact on me. That same store had a battered copy of Maggie Adams, Dancer by Karen Strickler Dean which I’m sure was the book that really sparked my interest in ballet.
As I grew older, I began reading some of the epic stories that my dad used to spend hours reading whilst David and I were out exploring and I came to love those too – there’s just something about a book so long and full of detailed descriptions of different places and time periods. In the backseat of the car, with a fluffy pillow and a thin blanket and I found myself completely entranced by James Michener and James Clavell and to this day, Shogun will always be the book I think of when I think of books reading summers past.