Thank you to Sandy McNamara for contributing to our series on Family Culture. Sandy is the wife of our priest, Fr. Wayne McNamara, the mother of four, and a grandmother of four. She is an art historian and an educator and a founder of Dominion Academy of Dayton.
It took root in my own childhood. My dad is still a history “buff.” At the age of 85, he’s still reliving the Russian Revolution through the books he’s immersed himself in. This love of history took our family to places like Washington, D.C., Appomattox Court House, Colonial Williamsburg, and the battlefields of Gettysburg. It brought history alive for me.
Thus, when we started having our own kids we made vacation destinations one of the top priorities of our family’s year and we structured our life to save for them. When we moved to Dayton in 1986, we bought an old farmhouse (in the city), built in 1875 – its inner city location made its purchase incredibly inexpensive. We had a used VW “Rabbit” – purchased from my father-in-law. I sewed most of our clothes (even attempting to make my husband’s dress shirts). All of this was done for the love of vacations – our family’s priority.
For the first 15 years or so our vacations led us to Lakeside on Lake Erie for at least one week a summer. Lakeside is one of two remaining Victorian “Chautauquas” in the US. A Chautauqua is a summer retreat, featuring lectures, concerts, and dramatic performances usually in an outdoor setting. The Lakeside chautauqua also featured many and varied kids’ activities – swimming lessons, tennis lessons, arts and crafts, VBS, and most importantly shuffleboard. The kids loved this place – as an enclosed community, they could ride their bikes and wander the little Victorian town unsupervised. It’s where they got their first taste of freedom – they could leave the cottage after breakfast and not come back until dinner time. We loved it too. It was a place to lounge by the lake reading while the kids were off on their own. Later we came together for family evening entertainment in the Hoover Auditorium. Maybe the highlight of Lakeside, though, was that we always went there with other families. Starting out as a means of sharing expenses, we soon learned how much we loved being with our friends and their kids. The intimacy of close living quarters gave all of us a taste of shared Christian life and commitment to living the gospel in our day-to-day families.
When the kids entered high school, our family began a different kind of traveling. We made historic destinations a new focus. In addition to visits to many important attractions in the US (often with other families), I signed up with an educational touring company called EF (stands for “Education First”). This allowed us to make several trips to Europe over the years with other students and their families. Traveling in Europe made us realize that people everywhere are pretty much like us. The European love of community and cultural achievement evidenced in the art and architecture of beautiful cities like London, Paris, and Rome uplifted and inspired us. Again, traveling with others and sharing experiences seemed to reinforce our strong belief in community life – one of our main family values.
Interestingly, in Deuteronomy 14 the Lord commands the Israelites to go up to Jerusalem every year, taking money with them to buy strong drink and whatever their hearts desired in order to rejoice before Him. Our family vacation has been a source of celebration for us that has allowed us to renew our commitment to Him and our family each year.