Aside from weekends spent camping or at the cabin, we took one vacation together as a family. When I was nine or ten, we went on a driving loop to Michigan, staying at a Holiday Inn one night—a pool, woo hoo!— and with Aunt Wilma’s family the next few. We then went down Lake Superior on a ferryboat to somewhere near Milwaukee and stayed with two different friends of my parents, most likely from college. What I remember most from the trip was my mother giving me Dramamine on the boat to avoid seasickness, and then conking out dead asleep for the remainder of the ride.

A couple times, we visited a theme park called Ponderosa a few hours away in the Wisconsin Dells area. The featured event was a ride on a wagon train during which people dressed as Indians attacked us while men dressed as cowboys fired guns back at them. Until I saw the movie Jaws in seventh grade, that was the most petrified I’d ever felt in my life.. The consolation prize was collecting colorful plastic monkeys that linked arms to hang on the sides of our drink cups at the restaurant on the way to the park.

I distinctly recall two other things about fifth grade. First, my teacher Mr. Pederson seemed to have thrown me under a bus at the parent-teacher conference. I was not aware there were any problems—I’d gotten a mix of 1s and 2s, as usual—but my parents returned home furious with me. They had been thoroughly embarrassed at being told of my unacceptable attitude in getting along with others. But I was unaware of it.

To this day, I have no idea what the teacher was observing. But after that, I was wary of my teacher and attempted to become invisible in class. In hindsight, by then the alcoholism was raging, full on, in our family. Nothing was as it seemed on the surface. Everyone was a mess. I’m sure I probably was too.

The other thing I remember from that year is one of my classmates, Bill, coming up with our class cheer: “Beer is great, sex is fun, we’re the class of ’81.” And there you have it.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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