May 2012

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laugh How I Spent Some Summer Vacations: A Play in Three Acts By Laura J. Gallagher With summer comes summer vacations, so I thought this might be a good time to wax rhapsodic on that great Wisconsin Summer In- stitution: the Dells. I'm a 5-year-old girl with hardcore pigtails and a head-to-body ratio that leans disturbingly toward the "head" side. My mom and dad get all wild 'n' crazy up in here and decide to take an actual vacation, booking a three-night stay in Wisconsin Dells at one of those '70s hotels with paneled rooms, shag carpeting and damp stationery. Seeing as my dad's motto is Vacation Is No Time to Re- lax, and it's more than 100 miles from Milwaukee to the Dells, we of course load the car with enough provisions for three days; road maps for Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio in case we get lost; a flare gun; and several blankets. We may have a bear-attack drill before we leave. When we get to the Dells my Oneida mother is immediately Act 1 amused and horrified by the "authentic" "Indian" "crafts," and refuses to buy me anything fun. We compromise on markers. (Note: A passing acquaintance with various Dells attractions from the '70s is required to enjoy the following.) To this 5-year-old, the Dells are pretty much the awesomest place that ever awesomed. We ride the Ducks. We visit Storybook Gardens and Biblical Gardens, every step photographically documented (there's a picture of me with JESUS!). At the haunted house I make it through one room before demanding to be let out. Paying $5 dollars for me to spend two minutes in a haunted house becomes one of my dad's favorite tight stories until the day he dies. And talking about how it was one of my dad's favorite stories becomes one of my mom's. " " To this 5-year-old, the Dells are pretty much the awesomest place that ever awesomed. It's 20 years later. I'm married to my college sweetheart. His best friend from high school is coming back to town and "the gang" decides it would be fun to go to the Dells for a few days. Cabins are rented, meals are assigned, liquor is bought…and bought… and bought. Since we're all in our mid-20s, we of course are the hippest, smartest, coolest people on the planet, never mind the Dells—totally unlike all the LOSERS there. No, we do not notice irony in the corner jumping up and down, waving its arms and yelling. The stupid just keeps coming as we buy saltwater taffy, get old- Act 2 timey photos taken—all very ironically, satirically and post-mod- erny, of course. One of Pat's friends decides to buy a plastic "Indian Brave" bow and arrow set, but not before asking if that would of- fend me. I honestly have no idea, because I'm not sure what should be more important to me—my hipster cred or my repressed minor- ity status. It's hard being a 25-year-old know-it-all. Act 3 Twenty more years pass. I have a house, a career and a much big- ger butt. I'm also in the throes of Thyroid Eye Disease and have just completed radiation therapy for it. My best friend, a prosecutor in the Twin Cities, has had a slew of particularly sad cases lately, so we decide a girls' weekend is in order. No cabins this time—we book a condo, massages and pedicures at a resort. I think we spend more on one dinner at our favorite steak place than my parents did for that whole trip way back when. Downtown, the souvenirs are, as always, goofy and cheap. The T- shirts in the shops all bear catchphrases from TV shows I've never seen and don't want to. The haunted house is still there as is the Ripley's Believe it or Not! museum. It's basically the 2011 version of the '90s Dells we sneered at. But here's the thing: it's fun—like, real fun, not we're-having- fun-laughing-at-everyone-else-because-we're-so-freakin'- clever fun. That's when I realize the Dells is one of the most honest places around. It doesn't hold itself out to be some sophisticated, cultured "distraction" while actually shilling "Come at me bro" T-shirts and deep-fried Snickers bars. No, it sits there in south- ern Wisconsin, and says, "Yep, we have deep-fried Snickers, and T-shirts, and crappy 'Indian' handicrafts. We always have. We al- ways will. We never said we were anything else. Come visit us if you want." It wasn't the magical place it was when I was 5 (what is?), but it was relaxing, entertaining and cheered us both up immeasurably. My only regret is not getting another Jesus picture. Laura J. Gallagher is a long-time communications professional. When not teasing her husband, Triple M's Pat Gallagher, she is on Facebook at the Laura J. Gallagher page! ••• 80 BRAVA Magazine May 2012

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