Memories are odd things.
I went out last night, to look at the Christmas lights at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. The night was chilly-not more than the mid 30’s. There was no snow (This IS Virginia), but we were bundled up in the appropriate winter-like fashion-scarves, gloves, hats and even a blanket for Evelyn’s wheelchair, so it FELT wintry. I meandered ahead and behind Timmy and his mom, taking photos (BIG surprise, right?)
So, there we are outside, in the dark, in the cold, and the lights are bright and festive. My mind traveled back to a trip I took in 1989 with my girlfriends. (No one do the math… I do not want to believe it was that long ago, ok? There is a reason I am NOT attaching any of the photos I just discovered of us back then. We were Young, and Thin, and Rene still had hair…) The five of us met up under the Kodak sign in Grand Central (I DID say it was a long time ago, right??), and there began a happy tradition of girls vacations, that last to this day in varying incarnations.
I think it was one of my best vacations ever. We traveled to Quebec City, via Amtrak and an overnight stay at a friend’s home in Montreal. And then crashed again at Rene’s a few days later when we missed the sole train home. (Were the helium-filled heart balloons the first or the last night of vacation? Who gave them to us anyway, was it Rene or Daniel? And WHY were they so nice, allowing 5 virtual strangers to crash, penniless and ill, on their doorstep??) We wandered the streets of Old Quebec, we enjoyed Bon Homme and the Winter Carnival, we marveled at the snow sculptures, and generally had a blast.
I can close my eyes and conjure Rue Petite Champlain, and the piles of snow everywhere. I can see the funicular, and recall the alleyways where art was being sold in the deep cold of February in Canada. And I understood mind over matter, because we wandered around in cold we weren’t used to, for all that we stood on the streets of New York waiting for buses in the snow all our lives. On the radio in Quebec the temperature was announced, I am sure. But as it was spoken in French, and it was calculated in Celsius, we had no clue.
And so we spent day after day outside, and warmed up at little café’s and restaurants like Au Petit Coin Breton; and settled down at night in our hostel exhausted. (And that memory is the only bad one…not the hostel itself, but the traveler from Sweden (I think) who infected us all with a nasty foreign influenza)
Last night, we wandered into the conservatory to toast our toes and noses a bit, and the heavy moist air of the greenhouse, the tropical plants and colors spurred another memory of Canada, at the Botanical Gardens in Montreal years before our winter visit! And so summer and winter, two trips from another lifetime, flit through my brain, and imbued the lights at the garden with wonder and nostalgia.
All these years later, our vacations together still bring us to tears when we laugh about those good times. Each year we try to continue the tradition in some small way, and while the location hasn’t ever been as magical and romantic a location as Old Quebec City, the fun continues unabated, and the memories continue to be collected.