Tom's Take: A Walk Down Memory Lane with the Maileys
● By Style
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
Sometimes you’re with your family and you have a nice time. You build snowmen, roast marshmallows, swap stories and share a laugh by a cozy fire while the snow falls outside, Hallmark style. Other times, you crash a sled into a storm grate or nearly vanish looking for bargain purses. Most of the memories I share with my family are a cold, hard, occasionally uncomfortable blend of the two.
When my dad first asked me to write this, he wanted something about a favorite summer vacation and time spent together as a family from one of the kids’ points of view. You have to understand, in our family, Dad, more than anyone else, is famous for his rose-colored nostalgia, so much so that I sometimes wonder what my early childhood was really like. For example: He’ll remember taking a five-year-old me fishing on the shores of a beautiful mountain lake. I remember that day too, but I’ll also remember we were nearly bitten to death by swarms of flies as big as blackbirds.
A game called “Top Five Favorite Memories” is one he likes to play whenever he has us trapped on a long car ride to somewhere/anywhere. My brother, Joe, usually gives eight, and they’re usually all pleasant, highly detailed recollections of events that took place when he was an infant...to which I usually argue something like, “You were literally two months old when that happened—you don’t remember that,” and he responds with something like, “Shut up, idiot.” The youngest, Sam, excuses himself from the game by calmly stating that it’s “stupid.” And then it’s my turn, and I let fly my favorites. “That time on the sled hill when I couldn’t stop and almost slid into an open storm drain”...“That time Mom and I followed a gal into a shady New York warehouse to look at designer purses”...“That time in San Francisco when a hobo wanted to fight Dad.”
Clearly, my glasses are of a slightly different shade. Last Labor Day weekend we took a trip to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. My dad had planned the entire thing around this majestic fireworks show that would happen the last night across the lake from us in South Shore. “It’ll be great,” he said. “No crowds…just the lake, the fireworks and us!”
It was late summer, so the mountain air was already cooling at night, but we’d forgotten that. In T-shirts and shorts we trudged down to the beach, ready to “ooo” and “ahh” at all the bombs that would soon be bursting in the air. Cold, cold air. Soon my teeth were chattering loud enough to wake the nearby bears. One brother clutched his camera for whatever warmth it could provide. My other brother folded himself inside a thin sweatshirt, not moving, possibly dead. But all that was forgotten when suddenly we heard a faint “POP” and there, on the lake’s far shore, was the tiniest firework we’d ever seen, followed by several more just as tiny—their delayed reports as loud as a mouthful of Pop Rocks. Yep. Dad had failed to account for the fact that a fireworks display just isn’t going to have the same kind of majesty from 20 miles away. The cold returned, we resuscitated my brother and returned to our room to thaw.
And that was it. It’s also one of my new “Top Five Favorite Memories.”
After my turn, he always gets slightly flustered and asks if I have any good memories. I tell him no, he’ll shake his head, and the game abruptly comes to an end. The truth is, of course I have “good” memories with my family, but they don’t quite capture our essence as much as the other ones. We’re far from a picture-perfect family—even when we try to be—and I want to remember us exactly the way we are. Because I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Catch Tom (Emma’s dad) on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @kncitom.