One of the aspects of travel that I love the most is the memories you carry home. Those mental souvenirs that are scrawled in journals and permanently etched in the back of your mind, ready to spring forth when you least expect it. This happened to me this past week while reading, “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World” by Eric Weiner.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, Eric Weiner, a former foreign correspondent for NPR, decides to go on a quest to find out what makes people happy and the places where happiness resides. Enter Chapter 2: Happiness is Boredom. Otherwise known as Switzerland. Now, lest you think Switzerland gets a bad rap, I’d like to state for the record that he doesn’t give Switzerland this label to criticize. Hardly. In fact, he explains why its brand of happiness works so well for its inhabitants. It’s a type of contentment borne out of its love for the outdoors – best explained by the fact that many Swiss consider themselves mountaineers at heart. His travels take him throughout the country and up in elevation to the town of Zermatt — where cars are verboten and the pristine air of this alpine town invigorates and inspires.
There I was reading this chapter, snug in my seat on the 7:20 NJ Transit train speeding towards New York City, when all of a sudden I’m back in 1992, thinking of my own trip to Zermatt with my family. There we were, on the same observation deck in the freezing cold, my dad imploring us both to stand next to the wooden crucifix so he could get a picture of the snow-capped Matterhorn. My brother, being younger and more prone to persuasion, obliging stood next to the “frozen Jesus” (as my dad so lovingly nicknamed it), while my thin-skinned mom and I, a perpetually embarrassed teenager, took the gondola down to the lodge to warm up with hot chocolate.
With a smile on my face, I quickly penned a note to my parents to tell them of the book and my bit of nostalgia. Hours later, I received two emails in response:
“Thank you so much for starting my day off. It makes me think of us sitting down at the lodge sipping hot cocoa and Dad and Danny coming down on the gondola, with the little kid throwing up, to meet us. That was a great trip, even with Dad wearing his hat.” – Mom
“Thanks. Boy did that short note bring back memories. I still have that tiny leather boot on the key chain that I bought at the top of the mountain Zugspitze and I just mailed you copies. Sweet.” – Dad
I could just imagine my parents, sitting in front of their computers — my mom at the middle school where she works and my dad in his home office, cuppa coffee in hand — reading and remembering that one day in the Swiss Alps, and the memories that are the hallmark of a true Graves family vacation. Oh, and he did make good on his promise, sending us all a text picture of his boot.