By Anne Gagliano
The trip was all planned. The hotel reserved, dog care arranged, bags packed, car gassed up. We were heading to a family favorite, a traditional getaway, a place we’ve enjoyed twice a year almost every year since our children were quite little—Leavenworth, Washington. It’s a beautiful drive just getting there, an enjoyable one. Highway 2 winds through the rugged, rocky peaks of the Cascade Mountains, which are trimmed with evergreens and hemmed by raging rivers with cascading waterfalls–breathtaking sites in both summer sun and winter snow. The town itself is charming beyond words; every building is fashioned in Bavarian architecture, the ideal style for mountain splendor. You feel as if you’ve stepped directly into the movie “The Sound of Music.” It’s our favorite local destination, one we anticipate with great delight, one that never gets “same-y” or old. We were there to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary, and this trip was especially anticipated, as we hadn’t been there for two years. Last summer’s trip was canceled because of the heartbreaking death of my husband Mike’s sister, and last winter’s trip was canceled because our basement had flooded. It was just the two of us, a relative first, as our boys had always come with us until now.
We arrive at our hotel, the same hotel we always stay at, and even the same room. We consider it “ours.” It is the Shakespeare suite, large enough to sleep our whole family if need be. The hotel is designed around famous authors and sits atop both a bookstore and a Starbucks—it is “us” all the way. We arrive invigorated by the beautiful drive, ready to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the riverfront escape. We enter “our” Shakespeare suite, and suddenly I am hit with overwhelming, unexpected sadness and my eyes well up with tears as a lump rises in my throat; the room is so unchanged as to be a step back in time–it even smells the same. Powerful waves of nostalgia wash over me and threaten to knock me flat as the memories and emotions of days gone by flood my memory. We were once a close, happy young family in this room; now our little ones are grown men out in the world. It seems like only yesterday that they were here and we were all together. My heart suddenly goes from happy to painfully sad, and it seems as though my trip is now ruined. I am wishing we’d picked a different room to stay in, for this one is just too full of memories.
Now I’ve done it—I’ve opened the floodgates. I try to shake the sorrow; this is a vacation, for crying out loud! Mike and I have so little time to just get away any more, and I hate wasting one single precious moment of it being weepy! He knows I’m sad–he feels it too, so we head out quickly to stroll the streets and shops of town. But it won’t go away. Once the mood is tipped it’s very difficult to tip it back. Now more memories of other beloved family members flood my mind. I am suddenly missing Mike’s precious sister, with whom we’d spent many a joyous New Year’s celebration here. My cousin comes to mind; she has just lost her dear husband, and I am reminded that they, too, loved Leavenworth as much as we do. I start dwelling on the potential death of my own beloved husband, which is a constant, lurking threat for the firefighter family, and now my spirits plummet even lower. This beautiful sunny day seems full of darkness, loss, and looming potential loss, and I find that I am not even remotely enjoying the moment as my mind dwells on days gone by.
We peruse the quaint shops that I so love in which I have found many a cherished treasure, but in my dark mood the knickknacks lose their charm. We eat at a favorite restaurant; the food has trouble going down over the lump in my throat. I’m mad at myself. Why can’t I just be happy? We look forward to this so much, and now I’m spoiling it for the two of us, as Mike can’t help but sense my feelings. The day ends with me still downcast, a precious vacation day wasted by dwelling on the past. The next day I arise still sad, unable to shake my longing for my children to be young again, for life to be as it once was. We eat breakfast, then begin to shop again. We enter “the sign store” as I call it, and I see Mike pointing to a plaque on the wall. He wants me to read it. I do, and the wisdom of Dr. Seuss pierces through me with uncanny, appropriate timing. The plaque reads, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Our eyes meet, and we do smile.
Have you ever done that, ruined what’s supposed to be a fun time by getting bogged down in the past? By believing the lie that your best years are behind you, that it’s all downhill from here? If you have, I hope you’ll remember this wonderful little quote by Dr. Seuss, for it is consummate truth. The past should be remembered with joy, and it should not be allowed to drown out the joys of today. My mood did rise after reading it, and I’m so grateful that it was there in that place and time, just for me, so it seemed. I instantly became grateful for the love of my children and the happy times we shared; I smiled because those good times happened. I remembered with affection the memory of my sister-in-law and became suddenly glad that we’d had so many New Year’s celebrations here in Leavenworth together. And most of all, I looked into the eyes of my beloved companion, who was, in this moment, alive and well and with me to celebrate our lasting marriage. I even felt a wave of gratitude for my cousin, for though her loss is immeasurable, at least she, like me, had been given the rarest gift of all, true love.
I was, thanks to Dr. Seuss, able to shift gears and enjoy our remaining days. On our anniversary, I had the incredible thrill of signing my book contract in this place I so love. In this beautiful mountain retreat, I felt the warmth of my family and our cherished, past traditions all around me as I put my name to a future commitment: a book about marriage on the date of our wedding!
Life changes, life goes on; children grow up, traditions evolve. Loved ones come, and loved ones go, but we will always have the treasure of knowing that those good times “happened.” Other good things can and will happen in the days to come. Dr. Seuss gave me an additional nugget of truth, another perfectly worded quote for the book signing moment as well, and it holds true for all of us, though we sometimes don’t believe it: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 28 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.