I was born in Long Beach, California. My mother was an ER nurse and my father worked for McDonell-Douglass. We lived in Cerritos, near Anaheim. (And, yes, we visited Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm often.) I remember walking a few blocks over to watch the 1984 Olympic cyclists fly by us on the freeway. The main streets in Cerritos were lined with purple Agapanthus (one of my favorite plants today), and the pet goldfish I had for about a week is buried in the flowerbed in the front yard. (Well, it was buried. A couple weeks later, I got curious about what he looked like, so I tried to exhume him … but couldn’t find him. Maybe the neighborhood cat go to him first?)
When I was in 2nd grade we moved up to what is known as the High Desert, and lived there until I graduated from high school in 1996. This past spring, I had a speaking engagement that brought me back to the area and it was an emotionally charged visit. (More on that later.) Some of my most cherished memories are of afternoons roaming the neighborhood, making blanket forts in the boy’s room, weekend trips to visit Grackey and Papa’s, and the epic summer road trips we took as a family.
I’m not what you would call a cryer, nor am I super-sappy, but I’m realizing how much of my childhood is etched in my mind as precious. I find myself wanting to give my kids the same experiences … though I might unintentionally take it up a notch. The first time we took Kenneth to The Magic Kingdom, I cried. Walking down Main Street was magical, and I was sure this was going to be Kenneth’s first special memory. Who knows, though. He was only 4.
But our Magic Kingdom visits are nothing compared to the National Parks. My guess is, my parents took us to somewhere around 10 National Parks. I remember my brother James being so puzzled when we reached the Petrified Forest. He wanted to know where all the trees were. (He was about 6.) At the Chickamauga Battlefield in Tennessee, as a teenager, I had the attitude of a lifetime (and the family picture to prove it) because it was HOT and HUMID (something this SoCal girl knew nothing about) and BORING. Yet, deep down, I loved all those parks and I do even more so today. The redwoods and caves, deserts and mountains, forts and battlefields are symbols of our time together as The Landrums.
Fast forward 25 years, and I am now an official all-out nerd when it comes to the National Parks. We go out of our way to stop and visit the parks. We’re on our second National Parks passport (the first one didn’t have enough spaces for all our cancellation stamps.) The kids do the Junior Ranger programs at each park we visit (if they have one), and receive badges for their work. I’ve lost count on how many parks we’ve visited … but the kids have well over 20 badges. Each. We’re taking a trip up to Kentucky soon, as Chris will be officiating a wedding for a sweet couple from our previous church. The plan is to hit two parks in South Carolina on the way up, and Chickamauga on the way home.
I’m not sure if my obsession with making our trips memorable, and for our kids to have experiences together, is shaped more by the wonderful memories I have or the fact that my brother is dead and no longer around to make new memories. I’m sure it’s a mixture of both. Carrying some of these traditions is a celebration of what my parents provided for me and my siblings: a good, safe, and solid childhood. And I’m so grateful for all they sacrificed to make it so. I know all-too-well now the temptation of being a lazy parent. It would be much easier and a HECK of a lot cheaper to just stay home and let the kids play video games all summer. But I want them to have the memories I have to hold on to. I want them to have these centering trips that force us to interact with one another, get to know each other better, and to just be The Orr Family. Together.