I have a picture on my bulletin board taken in 1998 in Sarasota Florida. It's a picture of me and my nephew Chris sitting in front of a fountain near the harbor. In the picture, I look about the same as I do now -- in fact as I sit here typing this, I am wearing the same shirt and glasses as I am in the photo. But Chris looks a lot different. In the picture he's eleven; today he turned eighteen.
I guess we've both been through a lot of changes since that picture was taken, but while I have mainly changed addresses and waist sizes, Chris has changed from a boy into a young man. When I talked to him today he was sitting in his dorm room in Boston preparing to go out for the evening to hear some live music with some friends. He has mid-terms and political discussions and girlfriend problems. He's beginning his life on his own and really seems to have a handle on things. Much more so than I did. When I was his age I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Still don't.
After I called him I started thinking about the trip we took to Florida together. See, that year Chris's Mom had to work the week Chris had spring break. All his friends were going on these cool trips somewhere and poor Chris had to stay home and do nothing. I thought it might be fun if he and I went to visit my parents for the week. It didn't seem fair for him to miss out on spring break. He was all for it and had two things he really wanted to do while we were there: visit Disney World and go deep sea fishing. I was really looking forward to having the chance to spend some time with him since I knew that it wouldn't be long before he was all grown up and too old to want to spend time with his boring old uncle.
On the flight down to Sarasota, Chris kept talking about DSF. When are we going DSF? Have you ever DSF'd before? I can't wait til we get to go DSF. What the hell is DSF? Deep Sea Fishing! Of course. Yeah, DSF is going to be pretty cool.
Meanwhile I had done some research on Disney World using one of those trip planning books they publish for compulsive list-making geek vacationers. I had devised a plan whereby we could see all of the major attractions in the morning and afternoon and then have time to go back and revisit Chris's favorites in the evening. The book told you which rides were crowded at which times so you could plan your route through the Magic Kingdom accordingly. I had two or three alternate strategies written down in my notebook and Chris and I discussed the best course of action. This kid was going to have the best spring break ever.
As it turns out, Chris really didn't know that much about deep sea fishing. He had a friend who had done it and come back with tall tales. It sure sounded like a lot of fun. And on a calm day, it might not have been too bad. But on the day we went out the sea was medium choppy with swells from 3-5 feet. Now for a good-sized fishing boat that's no real problem, but you are going to get a certain amount of pitching and rolling. And apparently the old Viking genes that my sisters and I inherited from our parents didn't quite filter down to the current generation. About ten minutes out of the harbor Chris started looking pale. After twenty he was queasy. And by the time we reached our destination and weighed anchor Chris was below decks throwing up. He wasn't the only one, mind you. About two-thirds of the boat was down there with him. Bunch of landlubbers I guess. I figured he'd just puke a couple times and he'd be O.K. You know how kids are.
A couple of times he did venture up onto the deck to see how I was doing. I felt guilty leaving him down there with a bunch of seasick tourists while I was sitting in the sun eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hauling in red snapper like nobody's business. But Chris wanted me to keep fishing. He said I was fishing for us both. What a great kid.
That night at my parents house, we had a red snapper feast, prepared with my special garlic, lime and ginger sauce. Man they were tasty. Poor Chris wouldn't touch them though. I guess they reminded him too much of the four hours he spent puking.
Thank God for Disney World. We followed my plan to a "t" and it worked perfectly. We got to all of the big-ticket rides early and figured out which ones we wanted to go back to. We had lunch right on schedule at a place recommended in the book as having the shortest lines. We got the advanced reservations for the long lines so we could back later and bypass the poor suckers who didn't read the book and cut right to the head of the lines. We saw everything we wanted and even finished ahead of schedule so we had plenty of time to go back and ride our favorite rides again.
Chris knew exactly which ride he wanted to go back to, the one called Splash Mountain. And that was the only one he wanted to go back to. Not Space Mountain. Not Pirates of the Caribbean. Not Haunted Mansion. Just Splash Mountain. And we went on it again and again and again. Actually it was kind of nice after along hot day in the sun to just float around in a little boat (no waves) watching animatronic characters like Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear sing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and then ending up sliding down a log flume and splashing into a pool of water. On our third or fourth time around we came out of one side of the "mountain" and floated peacefully along with a perfect view of the Cinderella castle just as the fireworks were going off. It was almost as if we had timed it just for that to happen. It was one of those moments I'll never forget.
We both had a great time at Disney World and the whole trip worked out as well as I could have imagined. I was really glad to have the chance to spend time with my nephew and hopefully give him some good memories to carry with him. But what I realized today is that I wasn't really doing it just for him. That trip is one of my favorite memories too. And I'm lucky to have such an amazing friend like Chris to share those memories with. I hope we get to spend more time together like that in the future. But for now I just wanted to say thanks, Chris, for such a cool spring break.
And Happy Birthday.
Love Uncle Rich.