A few years ago I fell in love with the movie The Holiday with Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Jude Law. Appropriately, it has become a holiday season pick and now I just have to dust it off along with The Grinch and A White Christmas. But don’t worry, I don’t let my Christmas spirit kick in ’till after Thanksgiving.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie is the house exchange. I think we can all relate that there are times when we feel like we need to clear our heads, and home swapping sounds like a pretty exciting thing to do. I’m definitely one of those people that can get bored with a space after awhile and want to mix things up.
Then I realized that people have been traveling this way without even knowing it, or at least, I have. Just yesterday I was rereading some of my old writing from last year and came across a little piece I wrote from my Spring Break trip to Big Bend National Park in West Texas. On one leg of the trip, my Mom had managed to find us a 1940s townhouse in Marathon, Texas. We had planned the trip pretty much on-whim just a few months earlier so it was remarkable she found something so nice. Normally, most tourists know that the hotel of choice is the Gage Hotel, but it was completely booked.
I honestly don’t recollect ever staying in a vacation home like this before. We have rented a beach house before, but that tends to be pretty run-of-the-mill. They are all decorated pretty much the same, white wicker furniture and light blues and lime greens. Almost as though the owner and their family bought with their renters in mind and not their own preference. But, this place was entirely different. This was a family home, a very old family home (by American standards). Generations had grown up here, and it felt odd and yet intriguing to have such an intimate glimpse into something as personal as a family home. This is what I ended up writing about the experience:
The old wooden floors creak beneath our bare feet as if the house was bending with every step we take. The oil portraits of the first owners haunt our movements as we walk and sit in the parlor. They stare with soft inquisitive eyes and I stare back. A chunky black tube T.V. sits awkwardly in the corner, boldly clashing with the sinking pastel claw-footed sofas and armchairs. We don’t touch the TV. There is no cable and the humming it makes disrupts the movements of the house. Sliding doors take us into the formal dining room that we also do not use. The polished dark wood furniture sits on a fading oriental rug. Instead, we gather and snack around the small wooden table in the adjoining kitchen with its bright window, reading the ranch magazines they have splayed around the surfaces of the house. We eat summer sausage, crackers, and Mexican suckers from the French Grocer’s down the dusty street. Our faces are sun- kissed and rosy-cheeked from exploring the surrounding mountains and spring fed water. We couldn’t go far- fences hem us in from the surrounding sweeping landscape of the mountains. We wonder where the Indians dwelt, we want to find their old walking ground. But the land isn’t free to us so we stop the car on the side of the road and scramble for signs of arrow heads or priceless trinkets lost in the rocks. When we have fed ourselves from the local hotel restaurant- the only place left open this Monday evening- we return to the creaking house. After sitting around the parlor reading old leather-bound Louis L’Amour books we slowly creak to our beds. The beds also protest to our movements, their wooden frames sighing under our weight. We check the sheets and pillows carefully for unwelcome guests and then relax under the blankets. Curling up close to each other for warmth. I am glad I do not have to sleep in the blue room alone. The walls during daylight glow a soft blue, which is reflected by the blue painted furniture and linens to match. But at night I think I hear unwarranted creaks and an eery glow from the walls. In the morning as we prepare to leave the house with our things, I look up to the second floor window, above the stone Victory V’s that were built into the side of the house during its construction and ponder what other things the house still held (the second-floor was off limits). I pulled out my cell phone and saw I was still without service. We hadn’t had it for any of the trip and were very grateful. We wanted to get lost, lost in a time we didn’t belong to. I pulled up the camera screen and took a picture of the house with it’s gray and bright red stones, proud Victory V’s, worn paneling, and hazy windows. We all climbed into the car and pulled out of the white dusty drive and out back through the mysterious mountains and valleys, further through until we came back to our own flatland home.
So, while reading over this again I realized that I kind of had my first taste of what it would be like to travel like Diaz and Winslet do in The Holiday. Obviously without the swapping part, but as someone who really likes trying to scrounge for every place’s secret story, it was a really good writing prompt to work off of.
At the end of the day, I learned that if you are in a slump in your writing, a change of scenery- traveling especially- can work wonders. I came back from this trip with dozens of ideas, one even developed into a really interesting short-story that I used for a fiction writing course. I never would have written anything like it had it not been for the moving experience that catapulted it into my imagination!