Summer Holidays: Memories & Moments
Summer holidays officially begin where I live. School term has ended, and so begins a time of carefree days where it feels like the sun will just shine forever. This year, things are a little different. It's the same for everyone around the world. Vacations, if you can afford to take them (both financially and professionally), are limited because of travel restrictions. And for those of us lucky enough to work from home, we are going to have to find ways to entertain our kids (for those of us who have them), although if we managed to get out of 3 months in lockdown relatively unscathed, the next six weeks will be a breeze. It's as my friend Lucy who has four daughters told me recently, "this is the home stretch." Summer holidays are an important part of life no matter what kind of a family set up we have--whether we travel far and wide or stay close to home. I remember summer holidays when I was a child. For much of my childhood, we would travel to India to see my uncles, aunts, cousins, and family friends. It was our yearly ritual. As it would always be a night flight from Hong Kong, I would look out the window from the airplane and see the lights twinkling below as we approached Delhi. Clusters towards the city centre and then fewer lights isolated on the outskirts. I can still smell the sweet air as we disembarked from our plane. After picking up our luggage, we would always, without fail, be picked up by my father's best friend of over 65 years. He knew my father better than anyone, even us. He would escort us outside into the hectic scenes that is the norm of airport life--people expressing the full range of human emotions--happiness and sadness, taxi drivers calling out for fares, vendors selling refreshing drinks to weary travellers. We would hop into my uncle's car and then drive into the night towards his home, the roads empty and I would look up at the street lamps eager to sleep but also to begin our holiday. We would stay with my uncle and his family and there we would begin our annual sojourn into my family's history, culture, and heritage. India has always had a peculiar impact on me. While it is similar to other countries in South Asia, there is a uniqueness in how it grabs a hold of your heart and refuses to let go. I don't want to use a cliché but there is a spirituality to India that embraces your soul and you are left with a sadness when you leave. None of that mattered to me as a child. As a child, it would be the excitement of packing a suitcase with brand new summer clothes that my mother would buy us to wear on our trip. What we knew about India back then was that it was where my father grew up, it was where some of his family lived. After a week or so in Delhi, we would then take a crowded bus or the Shatabdi Express train to Amritsar in Punjab to visit my father's sister and her family. Back then, I was obsessed with Archie Comics and my cousins would scour the local newsagents to buy a stack of them for me, to keep me occupied during our stay. There would also be the pilgrimage to The Darbār Sahib, or the The Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine. The city of Amritsar is bustling with its rundown, narrow roads, food stalls, shops selling the tastiest Punjabi delicacies like Kulcha (stuffed bread) that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. And there would be noise. Car horns beeping, people shouting, rickshaws (both manual and motor) weaving their way between cars, people, and buildings. It was a bustle that indicated that this city was (and is) just so alive, filled with vibrant energy. Yet, once we stepped inside the Golden Temple, it was like we were stepping into a completely different space. The only sound would be of prayers being chanted over the loudspeaker. There would be people everywhere but yet it was so peaceful. Walking barefoot on the marble floor (one has to take their shoes off upon entering the temple), felt like walking into a home that was soft, warm, and safe. Oftentimes we would also take road trips to the hill stations, beautiful hillside villages like Shimla which was about 183 miles south east of Amritsar. Or we would go north to Dalhousie. In the early days we would be treated to a trip further north to Srinagar in Kashmir, which I remember as being lush and green with the clear air and at Dal Lake (which is also known as Lake of Flowers) we had incredible views of the Himalayas. Our days there were filled with picnics and just running around playing in the park, days that just felt like heaven. Our Indian adventures were very different from what a tourist would experience. We never visited the Taj Mahal but we did see where my father would hang out in his younger days, in the days of his youth. We would go to the same coffee shops he would frequent in his college days and we got to know my father's life before he got married and moved to Hong Kong. Part of that life wasn't as carefree as we had assumed. During our holidays to India while we would see my father's friends and some family, we never visited his parents, my grandparents, who lived in Chandigarh. We were too young to know why or to even have the vocabulary to wonder. But as we grew older we understood the strained relationship that my father had had with my grandfather. It was only when we were teenagers did my brother and I spend a few weeks in India one winter holiday without our parents to see our paternal grandparents. As we grew older, the summer vacations to India slowly stopped. Our final summer holiday adventure as a family was to the United States in 1985. We travelled the breadth of the country, landing in Los Angeles, flying to Texas, then taking the Greyhound to New Jersey. After that, my brother would get a summer job, I would either be at a library or in a class that my mother insisted I take to keep me occupied. One summer she even sent me to a typewriting class. Yes, you read that right. It was 1986 or 1987, before computers and laptops, I was 12 or 13 and my mother signed me up to a typewriting class. While I hated it at the time, I can proudly say that skill has never left me. I think I average about 65 words a minute. Summer vacations were never the same after that. We kind of all did our own thing. I do remember feeling that I wasn't ready to give that family time up. Even when I was in junior high and high school, I often felt a tinge of sadness and even loneliness when summer holidays would begin. My mother worked a lot, my father did too so I was pretty much left to keep myself company during the days. This was the time when we had just moved to Toronto from Hong Kong so I didn't have a core group of friends who I had known forever. And my brother, well, the last thing he was going to do was hang out with his younger sister. By the time I was around 15 I got my first summer job and every year after that I was working. So summer vacations as I had known them to be--carefree and fun--had come to an end. Now that I have a family of my own, with my son who is going to start kindergarten in September, I am hoping to help build a stack of summer memories for him that he can always look back on with a sense of warmth and happiness. Even though that feeling of loneliness that I felt as a teenager still creeps up occasionally this time of year, I remind myself that this is my opportunity to create the kinds of summers I had as a young child and always wanted as a teenager and a young adult. Maybe that's what my father was doing when he would take us to his favourite haunts during our trips to India. Maybe he was going back to those days when he felt carefree and happy. I think a big thing for me is to ensure that not only will my husband, son, and I have adventures to wonderful places, road trips near and far, visits with family around the world, sharing with him those places that made us feel alive, free, and happy, I also hope our little boy will always feel, no matter where we are--even if we are just in our little back garden, what I felt at the end of a summer's day when I was his age. It's what I always wanted to feel as I grew older: spent, heart filled with happiness, and safe. And we don't need to travel far for that.