Steve Straussell: Before they’re gone

“I rented a 15-passenger van,” I told my wife months before our vacation. She jokingly replied, “Do you think it’s big enough?”

On cue, outside my office window, the school bus passed. I hesitated.

“Was that your school bus? Don’t think about it.”

Planning a vacation for a large family is hard work. And expensive. And unnecessary comfort. But we’re losing another kid in college this fall and our house is getting smaller and quieter. It has become important that we all gather in one place where no one has to answer business calls and no one has to meet the deadline.

My son Sam said, “I have to work.” “I have a lot of deadlines.” A recent college graduate, he just got a job at a bank in New York. Fortunately, remote work is fine because it is part of the company’s education program.

“We’ll set up an office for you in a quiet place. Please come anyway.”

He agreed, as did his five brothers, to others and/or important friends, and my mother-in-law. For those of you counting, these are 13 bodies. All in a Colorado vacation.

My wife could orchestrate a beach attack, a bitcoin convention, or any other moment that required a lot of fast-moving blocks. My main job was to find a car big enough to take us all to Colorado for 10 days because traveling there and then renting a car would be very expensive.

“I am flying,” said my eldest son. He lives in Nashville. makes sense. Sam has to fly because he’s in New York. Also makes sense. But when my fourth child said he was due to work until the day we left and went back to work the day before coming back, guess what? He had to fly. For some reason, my significant other and/or friends and mother-in-law didn’t want to ride in my rental van without them. My oldest daughter lives in Boulder, so no need to save her seat or her boyfriend. Still counting? We got four passengers in the 15-passenger van. But we will need every seat once we arrive.

“Everyone comes and brings plus one. Thank God I rented that van so far in advance,” I said right before I left to pick it up.

“We don’t have a car with 15 passengers,” said the man behind the table in a lifeless voice.

“Yes, I booked it six months ago,” I said, waving my phone with the booking confirmation on screen.

The man frowns. His gray shirt looked dark due to sweat. “Yeah, well, it’s the 4th of July weekend and it’s our busiest day of the week…”

“That’s why I booked the truck six months ago.”

“Yes, your truck was parked last night because it was going too many miles. We don’t have another.”

Airbnb cabin has a no-refund policy. The kayaking service had already charged our credit card. The groceries were scheduled to be picked up in Basalt and paid for. I tried to understand him with kindness.

I said, “I need a damn truck.”

He wrote, pinned to his computer screen. “I have a pickup truck that seats seven people. That’s it. I can cash it out and give you unlimited miles and a free day.” Swallow. “Take it or leave it.”

What? Who does this young man think he is? I planned in advance, I did it the right way, and now I am told to take it or leave it? “I consider.”

My daughter, Boulder, has our very own Subaru. It has five seats. Boyfriend has a car. We can make this work. So the seven-passenger minivan left for Colorado with four bodies headed straight to Boulder in one day.

There are several steps to making a great family trip affordable: Stay out of the tourist towns. Do not eat breakfast or lunch in the restaurant. Listen when hunting guides tell their clients what to bite. When rafting, the woman of the house rent a cute paddleboard, kayak for the kids, then put yourself with the leftovers on a large raft piloted by pilots like a bathtub.

We hunted hanging fork, Colorado, and pans. The floods kept the water moving faster than we’re used to in Arkansas and we kept hitting. The scene filled the void of empty nets.

The best of the nights were when we were cooking in our cabin overlooking the dirt-red valleys of Glenwood. Tired of fishing, rafting, and vacationing, we’d go to the rooftop where we’d plan the next day while talking, drinking, laughing, and barbecuing. I would look at those faces lit by the orange light of a sunset and understand the beauty of getting older, being a father whose children occupy different generations but the same golden opportunities that come with a large family.

Two of my sons had to leave early to get back to work, so they vacated our cabin one morning after five. . They waved goodbye and left.

When the taillights flickered, hopping along like red fireflies dancing in the morning darkness, I came to the realization that all the kids would eventually go. I loaded my fly rod and gear into the pickup truck and headed out into the rising sun to try one of the fishing holes again. Soon the beautiful brown trout was in my net. Then the rainbow is fleshy.

In this spectacle of falling water and climbing sun, I decided to start planning our next gathering. And the following. And more after that. This is the most hopeful thing a man can do when he looks at his children and wants to do something, anything, before they are gone.

Whatever happens, I swear I will always have enough seats.


Steve Strassell is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can access it at [email protected] You can find him on Twitter @steve_straessle. The movie “The Strenuous Life” appears every Saturday.

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