I’ve traveled quite a lot in the past few years, and I’ve learned there are three ways to be Away. There is “ Away on Vacation.” another is “Vacation Away” and the last I’ll call “Home Away.” I’m going to talk mostly about the last, but let me define previous two conditions, just so that we understand each other.
I and most people I know have had the experience of going Away on Vacation. There is a finite amount of time to travel, whether it’s days or weeks, and an itinerary of Things That Must Be Done to accomplish the feeling that you had a vacation. You spend as little time as possible getting to an Away on Vacation experience. The trip may encompass one or two major destinations, rarely more. They are wonderful experiences but when you get back to work you are heard to say, “I need a vacation to recover from being Away on Vacation.”
A Vacation Away is equal parts journey and destination. Travel plans are arranged so there are interesting stops and side trips to destination. Upon arrival, you stay in a place long enough to check out all the things you noted in your guidebook or on Trip Advisor, meet a few people and then it’s time to move on. You rarely hit the same resturant, shop or attraction twice, but you’re around long enough to figure out where to buy gas, groceries and to do your laundry. A Vacation Away is open ended; return dates change on a whim.
Being Home Away is very different. We are in Home Away mode right now. We headed south in February and after brief stops in Charleston and Savannah we arrived in Eastpoint Florida and are here through April. Home Away is something I haven’t experienced since I was a child. When I was around 4 or 5, my family took a rare vacation to Wisconsin and Michigan. When you’re that young, a few weeks can seem as a lifetime. I remember things from that vacation as snapshots: Sharing the back seat with my older sister. Boating on Wisconsin Dells. The Dancing Waters show. Losing a tooth. My father shooting off Fireworks. Drinking grape Kool Aid to cover the taste of sulfurous water (It didn’t work). I also remember asking my mother “Are we going to live here forever?” I felt as if I’d put down roots in this new place, and home became where I was. Now I am Home Away in Eastpoint.
Eastpoint in and of itself is not on anyone’s list of must visit places. It’s a blip on the map between Apalachicola and Panama City. There’s a tiny grocery, a Family Dollar store, many bait stores and a few restutaunts and oyster bars. There are no spring breakers in Eastpoint unless they have been dragged here against their will by their parents. There is fishing aplenty, both sport and commercial. Oyster and shrimp boats, estuaries and birding areas and the Appalachicola National Forest are the main attractions here. There’s kind of a beach town on nearby St. George Island, but it’s mostly populated by families and retirees. Stay here for more than a week or two and you become a regular, Longer than that, and people start to call you by name–if you’re not a jerk. If you are a jerk you will get a nickname from the locals. Hope I never earn one for myself.
We have been here long enough that I know things. I have a library card and there is a community calendar taped to my fridge. I know where the weekly Yoga classes are held (Vinyasa and Hatha) and when the farmer’s markets are open. We attend the old Methodist church on Sundays. This week they had a substitute pastor. The regular pastor was attending his son’s graduation. There are two Piggly-Wiggly stores at opposite ends of town and one IGA. I know which one is better for certain kinds of groceries. The people at Lynn’s Seafood, the oyster market we frequent are starting to recognize us when we come in. We’ve met Lynn. I’m going to a local writer’s workshop at the library next week. I hope they don’t make me read any of my work. We’ve started recognizing people. The youth pastor works at one of the local businesses. I run into the guy who runs the gas station as I shop in the Piggly Wiggly. They don’t recognize me as I am just one of many temporary residents. There’s no interest in trying to get to know us, until we prove ourselves. There are people in our campground who have been wintering at Eastpoint for many years. They have mastered the art of Home Away. For me, I am somewhere between Vacation Away and Home Away. We are doing regular vacation stuff like hanging out at the beach, biking and paddling. Still, I’ve made a commitment. After signing up at the very pretty Eastpoint Public Library, I checked out two movies (one week rental) and a book (good for three weeks). As I left the library with my items and new card, the librarian called after me saying “You only need to apply one time, the card is good for life!” Feels more like Home Away every day.