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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #45: Building A Legacy of Memories

How will my children remember me when I’m gone? How do I hope they remember me?

I found myself pondering these questions last week as my youngest son and I, along with our canine adventurer Cassie, wended our way through the rolling hills of New England on an eight-day camping road trip.

The road trip was to celebrate Liam’s birthday and upcoming graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Law School—a huge accomplishment made even bigger given the fact that when Liam set out to go to law school, he didn’t think he’d even be able to get into an Ivy League school, let alone graduate from one. And yet, here he is. (If you want to go far, aim high, right?) 

Liam and I have been talking for years about taking a trip through New England and getting up to Acadia National Park. With his final class of law school behind him, he finally had a few weeks of free time before studies began for the bar exam. I have greater flexibility now that I’m working part-time.

And so there being no time like the present and no certainty of the future, we jumped at the opportunity, hitched up the Keystone travel trailer, and headed off.

I won’t bore you with the details unless you’d like to hear them (brief travelogue below). Suffice it to say that, being this was May in New England, we had some warm, bright blue days and some chilly, rainy days. We spent a better part of three days driving (it’s slow going when you’re towing a 29-foot trailer). We did some great hikes and others that were a bust.

We ate some great seafood meals and others that were marginal; we took short showers in the cramped corners of the camper bathroom; we slept on thin mattresses and by the end were happy to get home to our big, spacious beds.

But the thing about making great memories is that the experiences don’t have to be perfect or luxurious to stick in our minds. In fact, some of the best memories I have growing up were of the simple adventures my brothers and I took with our father that cost little because he never had the money for anything fancy:

  • Camping in Ole Bull State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania—aka “God’s Country”—and seeing a bear outside our tent in the middle of the night.

  • Our annual deer hunting trips after Thanksgiving when we never, ever got a deer but always managed to have a great time at the dinky little motel where we stayed in the Poconos.

  • Going to farm auctions and hearing the excitement in our father’s voice as he bid on an antique piece of equipment and was able to take it home in the car.

Why did these memories stick with me? I think it was because we were participating in the things that our father was passionate about. In doing so, he passed that passion down to us.  

There was the fact, too, that our father was always there on the big days of our lives: our driver’s license tests, our financial aid applications, our graduations. In the end, I believe it’s our consistent presence that matters the most to our children—more than what jobs we had, what titles we held, how much money we made or what accolades we won in our careers.

The simplest thing we can give—our presence—is the most important thing, the most lasting thing.

Character matters too, of course: the things we say and do; the way we treat people and live our lives. But even there, our children don’t expect perfection. It’s important for them to see our failings and failures because life isn’t perfect and they need to see how we deal with those imperfections and what we make of them.  

At any rate, that’s how I hope my kids will remember me: by the simple times we had together doing things I and they are passionate about like camping, fishing, hiking, and spending time in the great outdoors.

On that note, here’s a brief overview of last week’s trip.

Oh, and if I don’t post over the next week, Happy Memorial Day!


Travelogue: New England Road Trip, May 3-May 10, 2024

The first leg of our trip took us to Abel Campground in Braintree, Vermont.

The campground, which is situated in a picturesque valley along the banks of the White River, had just opened for the season the day we arrived. Except for a few seasonal campers who were getting their rigs set up, the campground was close to empty.

We spent three nights there, taking day trips to the nearby Green Mountain National Forest in the hopes of doing some hiking. Alas, we quickly discovered that the Green Mountains, while beautiful, don’t offer many public hiking trails, and some of the best trails, such as to the cliffs of Mount Horrid, were closed to hiking due to nesting activity by peregrine falcons.

No matter. We toured the local Vermont towns, which are every bit as quaint and lovely as you see in the pictures. We stopped at a roadside stand for a quart of dark Vermont syrup and poured it on our pancakes in the morning. We had a couple of yummy, albeit pricey, dinners at local restaurants (Vermont has a 9% tax on meals and a 10% tax on alcoholic drinks).

We made campfires at night. We took Cassie for walks along the creek. One day, I showed Liam how to cast a fly rod.

The final day at the campground was a washout with heavy rain. We went to a movie at a cute little theater in town where I counted less than ten people including the owners, who sat at a table in the back manning the popcorn maker.

Fortunately, the rain stopped overnight, and early the next morning, we hitched the trailer back up and headed off to our next stop: the Oceanside KOA Campground in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The drive to Maine took close to eight hours with all the stops along the way to refill the gas tank and walk Cassie. The clouds gradually cleared as we drove and by the time we arrived at the campground around dinnertime, it was nothing but blue skies.

If you’re a camper, I highly recommend the Bar Harbor Oceanside KOA Campground. Although it is pricey as campgrounds go, it is immaculately maintained and each site comes with a patio area with a propane grill. Even in early May, there were a fair number of other campers there. We saw license plates from all around the country: California, Washington, Texas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia.

But the best part of the campground is its location. It’s situated along the narrows at the west end of Desert Island, offering fantastic sunset views of the ocean. That first night, we got seafood takeout from a local restaurant and took in our first Maine sunset over the narrows.

The next day, we were off to Acadia National Park to do some hiking. It was our first visit to Acadia and all I can say is that I can’t wait to go back. Unlike the Green Mountain National Forest, Acadia offers a plethora of hiking trails.

Our favorite hike was to Bubble Rock. It’s only a couple miles to the summit, is not particularly taxing, and offers stunning views of Jordan Pond in one direction and the ocean in the other.

On our second day, we hiked the Ocean Path Trail at Arcadia, another relatively easy hike which makes its way along the rocky Maine coast. Between the ocean views and the gorgeous pink granite rocks, it was without question the most scenic ocean trail I’ve ever had the chance to walk.

That night, we went into Bar Harbor and had dinner at the iconic Geddy’s seafood restaurant. We found the food to be overpriced and nothing particularly memorable, but the place was hopping and we enjoyed the ambience and the people watching.

After two gorgeous days, the third day in Maine turned seasonally cool and brought rain in the afternoon. In the morning before the rain moved in, Liam got in another hike with Cassie at Acadia while I stayed back at the camper to do some work.

That evening, we went back to Bar Harbor for dinner at the Paddy’s Irish Pub on the waterfront. I had the smoked seafood chowder, which was amazing, while Liam feasted on the biggest serving of fish and chips either one of us had ever seen.

One of the benefits of going camping in Maine in early May is that the crowds are down. We pretty much had the Acadia trails to ourselves and had no trouble making reservations at the Bar Harbor restaurants and finding parking. I understand that is not the case at Bar Harbor once Memorial Day comes around.

There was so much more to see in Acadia, but alas, Liam needed to be back for a planned weekend trip with friends in Montauk, Long Island. So the next day we packed up and headed off to New London, Connecticut. After a full day of driving, we arrived around dinnertime and checked into a Hampton Inn while Cassie slept in the camper in the parking lot.

The following morning, we had a chance to visit the Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park, the site of the largest Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut where, in 1781, the British militia force commanded by the traitor Benedict Arnold captured the fort and massacred dozens of colonial militia members.

It’s a fascinating site set high on the hill with lovely views of the Thames River and the Naval Submarine Base. (We saw a submarine pass through the channel as we were touring the park.)

After dropping Liam off at the ferry around noon, I drove back home, and that was a wrap! As always, Cassie was a champ throughout the trip. She loved the hikes and was patient on the long drives. Between this trip and my earlier cross-country trip to Colorado, she is becoming quite the regular traveler.

Altogether, it was a tiring but memorable trip, and one that I know I will remember for years to come.

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May 21

An engaging and insightful post as always, Jim! You're absolutely right that what our children think of us is extremely important as a gauge of our efficacy as parents. I know that I was flattered beyond measure when my younger son wrote in a Father's Day card that I'm the wisest person he knows. I can't vouch for the veracity of his statement, but it surely meant a lot to read it!

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