what happened

This is the story of what happened when I let a six-year-old choose a vacation destination.

Walt Disney World or Universal Studios claim most adults. I can’t conjure a greater hell, especially since I spent my mistake-marriage honeymoon there. When we offered to take our guideson on an epic sixth birthday adventure, here’s what he picked:

what happened

Haven’t heard of Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, Canada’s premiere paleontology destination? You’re not alone. But when a kid loves dinosaurs and you love that kid, you make sacrifices, right? Including redeeming every award point you possess to make a trek to a godforsaken place you never wanted to see.

what happened

I gritted my teeth and prepared to endure hours of staring at long-dead, horrifying creatures in close quarters. My knowledge of dinosaurs comes from the 1970s Saturday morning show “Land of the Lost.” The utter awfulness of that program banished any curiosity I may’ve otherwise had. My upbringing snuffed out what remained. It’s hard to study dinosaurs in a school that teaches the Earth’s only been around for 10,000 years.

what happened

But the most complete armored fossil ever found? Call me transfixed. It represents a species formerly unknown to science. A paleontologist worked for five years to chip it from its prison of rock. I gazed into its eye socket and wondered about the world it saw.

what happened

Why did I expect to be bored? I hoped to plow through my to-read list while he saw the exhibits. The place came at me as broccoli I didn’t want to try. A dinosaur museum held nothing for someone like me.

what happened

What’s the greatest value to approaching life with an open mind?

In this case, I’m glad I tried the broccoli. I was gobsmacked by the Royal Tyrrell Museum. When Cooper was already in the gift shop picking out a stuffed toy, I was staring at the tusks of this woolly mammoth. I couldn’t get enough of the bones, the geology, or the stories of discovery. When I threw myself into it without reservations, I loved a place I expected to hate.

what happened

My challenge to you?

Pick your stand-in for my dinosaur museum. It can be a restaurant you think you won’t enjoy, a movie that’s been panned, or a book in a genre you don’t usually read. Don’t limit yourself. Try something you expect to hate. Embrace the moment, and let me know what happened for you.

Make a Memory is a movement, a challenge to turn
I wish I had into I’m glad I did in 2015.

Reach out and claim an adventure this year. Make a Memory before it’s too late.

I first heard of author Miranda Gargasz from Tori Nelson, one of my awesome walking partners on the Tennessee Trace. After stalking her words for a year or more, the internet put us in the same place at the same time. We connected. We’re all lucky she shared this special Make a Memory story with us today.

not without my father


We were unpacking boxes from our recent move when our youngest son, Tony, came upon a pile of pictures.  This random stack was saved in its own tiny basket, a basket that had come from a drawer in my dresser.  It had previously occupied the space next to a floral trinket box filled with love letters.

“Who are these people, Dad?” Tony asked.

Taking the stack, Jim shuffled through them.  A smile spread across his face.  “This guy here is Chup, and this is Brian and his wife, Angie.  These are pictures of my old Navy buddies.”

I smiled as I listened to their conversation, knowing exactly what pictures they were talking about.

“Where did you find these, buddy?”

“In this box.  There’s another box inside,” Tony said as he lifted the trinket box, accidentally dropped it, and spilled the letters all over the floor.  “Oops.”

“It’s okay.  We’ll put these in order by their postmark.  No biggie.”

“How did you know they have an order?”

“Because I know your mother.
These are my letters I wrote
to her while we were dating.”

At that, Jim looked up at me and smiled. 

“Did I ever share with you my favorite memory from my Navy days?” he said to Tony while looking at me.  I felt the familiar burn of tears in my eyes.


Tony sidled up to his father and paid rapt attention.  Our oldest son, Jimmy, stopped unpacking and scooted closer, too.

“Well, being in the Navy is a lonely job.  It keeps you away from your family and loved ones for long periods of time, sometimes months.  Your mom and I were dating for about a year when I had to go on my six month cruise to the Mediterranean.  Now, this was before cell phones, texting, Skype and all that.

The only way we could keep in touch
was through letters and phone calls.”

Tony nodded his head.  “The olden days were tough.”

Jim laughed.  “Yes, they were tough.  It was hard when you were dating someone who lived at home while you served, but it was even harder when we were deployed because there were no phones to call home on the ship.  Sometimes our mail would be held for weeks at a time because it was a secret where our ship was.  Mom would send me letters every day and sometimes I’d get nothing.  Sometimes I’d get a giant pile of letters and cards.”

“It had to be like Christmas, huh?” Jimmy said.

“Yes, very much like Christmas. The days we were gone were very lonely and all I could think about was home, how much I missed Mom and that I was going to ask her to marry me when I got back.

I figured if she waited that long for me,
she was the one.

You see, most of the guys I was in the Navy with had girlfriends and even wives who didn’t wait for them.  They just moved on without their sailors.  The guys would come back from deployment to find that their girls had new boyfriends, or their wives had moved home with their parents and were divorcing them.”

“That’s sad,” Tony said.

“They cheated on them?” Jimmy asked, incredulous.

“Yes.  And it happened all the time. 

“After six months away, and so few mail calls, I couldn’t wait to get back to Virginia.  I was hoping that we’d pull in to the dock and I wouldn’t have duty.  I was also hoping that somehow my family knew when my ship was coming in and would be on the dock waiting for me.

“Well, the day we pulled in was gray and cloudy and rainy.  It took hours for our ship to pull in.  Many of my crew mates told me not to get my hopes up for anyone to meet me, especially with the bad weather.  I tried not to, but I couldn’t help but wish that I’d get to see them.

“Those sailors who didn’t have duty that day got to stand all along the edge of the deck, something they called ‘manning the rails,’ a way of honoring our return.  I was standing up there searching to see if Grandma or Grandpa were there, and hoping that Mom might be there, too.”

Jim looked up at me and I was already crying. Both boys bounced looks between the two of us.

That memory was more than 20 years old,
but it was fresh in my mind.  

“I saw what seemed like hundreds of faces along the dock, none of them familiar.  People were everywhere looking and waving.  My heart started to feel really sad and I started to lose hope that my family had been notified of our return. 

“Just when I was about to give up, the Chaplain for our ship tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to my far left.  There on the dock was a six foot sign, held on one end by Mom, the other by Grandma, that said


Mom had taken a big Coke banner from work and made a sign out of the back of it so I could see that they were there while I was on deck.”

He stopped a minute.  His eyes overflowed with tears.  “That’s my favorite Navy memory.  Mom wanted to make sure I could see them.  She wanted to make sure I knew that they loved me so much that they’d drive twelve hours in crappy February weather, wait another four or five hours in the rain, slowly watching our ship pull in, so I didn’t feel lonely on our return.”

“I think it’s because she loved you,” Tony said.

“Yeah, I think so, too.” Jim said.

Later that night, after the kids were in bed and we readied for sleep ourselves, Jim snuggled up to me in the dark.

He whispered in my ear.  “I will be an old man, in a home, forgetting how to tie my own shoes, but I will always remember you, shivering on that dock, crying and clutching that sign.”

I lay in bed next to him and cried.  Not because I was sad.  Because he shared this memory, someday, when we are both dead and gone, our sons will come upon those pictures and love letters and share them with their children.  That memory will “man the rails” of time, honoring the love story for generations to come.

What better memory could there be?

miranda gargasz make a memoryMiranda Gargasz is a writer from a small suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio.  She earned a degree in Elementary Education before becoming a writer. Her essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and on HumorPress.com. In February of 2014 she published her first collection of essays entitled Lemonade and Holy Stuff.  Since publishing her book, she has become a contributor to the popular mom site What the Flicka?, brain child of actress Felicity Huffman.  She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and has been featured on Mamapedia and ModernMom.  She lives with her husband, two sons and a feisty mutt. Read more about Miranda HERE.

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Read Not Without My Father. Grab a loved one. Make a Memory that will live forever. The Huffington Post calls Not Without My Father “one literary ride you don’t want to miss!”

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People might be surprised to learn America’s richest city in 1800 wasn’t New York, Boston or even Philadelphia. My own Charleston couldn’t claim the crown, either.

Natchez, Mississippi beat
everyone to the money.

Situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Natchez is chock-full of mansions.

dunleith natchez trace

from usgulfcoaststatesgeotourism.com

Some pristine. Some not. Its culture blends Cajun with Old South, uptown with frontier. On its restored riverfront, visitors can time travel while they nosh of fried pickles. They can gamble and imagine the boatmen, just over there. Dismantling their wooden barges. Stuffing their pockets with cash. Walking past ostentation with HOME on their brains.

Mansions couldn’t hold them.
Society failed to entice.

They craved open spaces, beyond porches and piazzas. At the rim of plantation lines. In swamps and forests, dirt and sky.

longwood natchez trace

from terragalleria.com

The boatmen looked at the riches of Natchez, and they embraced the American Dream. They didn’t know what to call it. Yet. But they knew if they worked harder, walked further, made it home……..it would one day be within their grasp.


There’s no better time to visit Natchez than during Pilgrimage. Spring and Fall. Mark your calendars. If you’re the spontaneous sort, Spring Pilgrimage runs from 7 March to 7 April 2015. Fall 2015 Pilgrimage dates have yet to be announced, but it usually runs from late September to early October. Click HERE to learn more about Pilgrimage.

No Make a Memory visit to the Trace
is complete without my books!

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the NatchezTo Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether LewisGet your copies of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by heading to my