I am a sucker for Baby Boomer nostalgia, and Steve White’s Family Vacations and Other Hazards of Growing Up is one heck of an hilarious and touching trip down memory lane. Who doesn’t long to relive those lazy, hazy, crazy childhood days? Now you can, with this wonderful amusement park ride of a book that takes us on a journey most of us will recall with fondness, if not a bit of longing.
Steve White uses humor, truth, personal experience and insight as he reviews the wacky days of his youth growing up in the Midwest via stories of funny family vacations, flashlight tag, first crushes, exploring nature, sibling torment and dealing with the quirks of adults, especially parents. We get to relive it all, from the art of chasing bugs to the magic of catching that first fish to the terrors of being trapped in a smelly station wagon with siblings you pray you were not related to, but must live with nonetheless.
From the eyes of a guy who’s lived through it, we get to live through it all over again. But because the writing is so descriptive and humorous and honest, it almost feels like the first time. I laughed out loud so many times, reading about the author’s experiences with girls, with playing sports and street games, looking for fireflies and creeping critters, discovering the woods behind his home as a magical universe. And, oh, the mention of the author’s Johnny West doll sent me over the edge! I not only owned Johnny West, but Jane, the parents, all the horses, the ranch house and complete ranch accessories. Too bad I sold them all on eBay because after reading this book, I wanted to break out all the old toys and have a personal hey-day reunion.
These wonderful essays on childhood are so from-the-heart and tinged with hilarity that you cannot help but feel like breaking out the old family movies. We learn why the author refers to his Dad as Old Yeller (it’s not a family vacation, the author tells us, until somebody starts yelling), and why he thinks his mom insane when she repeatedly admonishes him to stop acting like trees fell on him. But the whole time we are reading about rotten sisters and brothers we wish belonged to another family, or our first pets and the heartbreak of saying goodbye when they die, we are thinking of our own loony childhood memories, the good and the bad.
My favorite chapter is “How To Be Annoying,” with “Ridiculousities” coming in a close second, but each and every chapter and each and every story, whether standing alone or as a cohesive unit, made me smile, brought a tear to my eye, and tugged at my heart with a longing for my own childhood lazy, hazy, crazy days – rotten siblings and all.
A touching side note, especially after reading the final chapter about the author’s discovery of the fairer sex, and finally true love – the author’s wife, Jennifer, to whom the book is devoted, passed away the same year this book was published. I hope she got to read it just once. It would have no doubt made her smile as well.
Family Vacations and Other Hazards of Growing Up is a book anyone can appreciate, for one does not have to be a Boomer to connect with the magic and awe of those wonderful “wonder years” the author so joyfully reconnects us to.