Summertime is the season for that strange annual tradition known as the family vacation.
When you think about it, taking a vacation with your youngsters is an odd notion. Why would one choose to be trapped in a car with miniature humanoids, who, through a fluke of genetics, happen to be related to you? Smallish people who are barely housebroken and engage in such disgusting behaviors as distributing wet willies and saving boogers in their shirt pockets?
Despite these hazards, my wife and I attempted to take a relaxing summer vacation with our two sons when they were kids. I say attempted because the get-away provided precious little relaxation for me.
We were dairy farmers. As such, the words "go on vacation" meant more than merely finding someone to check on the cat and watch "Game of Thrones" on your bathroom TV. We essentially had to find a babysitter for our herd of Holsteins.
The job description was fairly straightforward. The person we hired would have to milk our cows, feed them, care for the baby calves, clean the barn, haul manure, keep all the animals healthy and make sure our dog was petted. And that was just before breakfast.
Fortunately, we found an excellent hired guy named Kevin. Kevin had zero farming experience and therefore came with no dunderheaded dairy management ideas. Following a training period that lasted scarcely a year, I became confident enough in Kevin to leave him in charge for a few days.
I arose at 5 a.m. on the first day of our vacation. My wife and I carried our slumbering sons out to the car and pointed it toward the Black Hills.
It's about seven hours from our farm to the Hills. This can take twice as long if there are two fidgety boys in the back seat. Our sons slept for the first few hours of our journey, so things seemed quiet and relaxed. But, I secretly worried that Kevin might forget to switch the pipe over to the milk tank, a blunder I had committed more than once.
The boys woke up hungry, so we purchased French toast sticks at a fast food joint. To this day, the aroma of greasy fried bread and sticky syrup makes me think "vacation."
Thanks to my strategy of leaving early and minimizing the number of rest stops (sadly, my wife had vetoed my coffee can idea), we arrived in the Black Hills by early afternoon. We randomly decided to drive to Hot Springs where we visited Evans Plunge, a large indoor swimming pool that's fed by natural warm springs. The unending flow of balmy water has been augmented by waterslides and other naturally-occurring fun-enhancing features.
As the boys frolicked in the water and became ever-more wrinkly, my wife said, "Finally, we can relax and enjoy ourselves."
I glanced at my watch.
"Kevin should be done cleaning the barn by now. I hope he remembers to fasten the gates the way I showed him. Some of our cows have escape skills that would rival Houdini."
"Can't you just savor the moment?" my wife admonished.
"That might be easier if I knew that Kevin was able to start the loader tractor. Sometimes you have to cuss at it and spit on it in a particular way to get it going."
"You need to switch off," said my wife. "There's nothing you can do about the farm. We're hundreds of miles away."
"I know. But if the cows got out, I bet we could break some speed limits and get home in time to help Kevin chase them back in."
After several hours of water-based fun, our sons were tired and hungry. We grabbed some fast food and began to look for a place to spend the night. None of the major hotels had a vacancy.
Just when the boys' crankiness level reached critical mass, we found a hotel that had a room. I don't recall, but I believe that "fleabag" was somewhere in the hotel's name.
The bedspreads were threadbare and the room smelled weird, but we were too exhausted to care. Our sons fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow.
As the boys slept, my wife snuggled up to me. "Isn't this nice and relaxing?" she asked.
"I guess. But it would be better if I knew that Kevin remembered to turn off the barn's lights."
"I figured this would happen," my wife muttered as she began to rummage about in her capacious purse. She soon hauled out an old light switch.
"Here!" she said. "Turn it off!"
I did as was told.
"Feel better now?" asked my wife.
And for some reason, I did.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry's great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.