By Matthew Jones - Adventure Expert at Universal Dialect
Our earliest memories are the foggiest yet most defining. Youth is where we become who we are. The joys and traumas we experience shape our understanding of the world and create a framework for our identities, one that sticks with us forever.
Here’s one of my earliest memories:
It’s a warm fall day. My family has piled into our blue Dodge Caravan that had manual doors, a cheap plastic steering wheel, and matching blue linen seats. I have no idea where we are, but we’re parked under a tree.
In my mind, we’re sitting in the middle of a large field. Small hills roll gently all around, and the tree is the only one to be found. It still has enough leaves to engulf us in shade, although most have begun to change colors. A perfect estuary of seasons.
There’s a small, paved road cutting through the hills, but we’ve pulled off to the side to sit and have our lunch. After we’ve parked and settled, I remember my mom coming around from the front to open the side door and let us out. We were likely squirming to get out and explore. But before the adventure could begin, it was time for lunch. My dad would have gone to the trunk to pull out the cooler that had been packed with cold drinks and sandwiches.
For me, this was the best part of the trip. But it’s not my favorite solely because it’s time to eat – who doesn’t love to lunch? Instead, I’m antsy because on special occasions such as this my sister and I get to eat “family adventure” sandwiches.
These special concoctions were only ordered from “our” spot when, as the name suggests, the family was on an adventure. As I saw it, they were made with choice ingredients, those that we couldn’t afford most other days of the year.
To me, at the time, it was the type of sandwich all the kids at the lunch table would have been dying to get their hands on. They would have offered to trade their whole lunches for it. Maybe even for just a bite.
In my mind, the rest of what went on that day was insignificant. I don’t even remember what the adventure was that day. In fact, I am not even sure this exact memory even exists.
My family did many things like this, as many as we could. I have fond memories of all of them, but I could probably only accurately describe a select few. But I do remember the sandwich.
So, then, what was this sandwich? I am sure you’re beyond curious. What deli delight could be so delightful it managed to transcend the boundaries of time and space and exist both in my youth and my present-day?
You’re likely salivating just thinking about something so delicious, waiting until I share the details so that you can run to the store and make one for yourself and all your loved ones.
Okay, enough waiting. Here are the ingredients:
- White bread
Mind blown. I know.
How no one has thought of this recipe before is beyond me. I feel guilty even writing it on the page. I should be opening up a sandwich shop and getting rich off my culinary genius.
But seriously. That was it. The “family adventure” sandwich, the one that is burned into my memory and that has stayed with me until this very day, was nothing more than a plain old ham and cheese sandwich.
If I remember correctly, we used to order them from somewhere, which was in fact special. But being a kid, all I wanted was ham and cheese, and my parents obliged.
For most of my youth, I thought this sandwich truly was something special, a meal too beautiful to have at any other time. Later on in life, I learned the truth. But instead of being disappointed, I was impressed at what my parents had been able to do.
Simply by using a special name, my mom and dad altered my perceptions of something mundane and made it exceptional.
For many years, I didn’t think much of these memories, or series of memories I should say (I am now convinced the scene described above is an amalgamation of many different “family adventures”). Instead, they simply sat in the depths of my subconscious. But once I started exploring the world and making my own adventures, many of these memories came rushing back, and I now see the impact these experiences have had on who I am today.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled quite a bit of the world over the past few years, and one of the questions I get most often is “What’s your favorite country?” or “Where is your favorite place?”
I never have an answer because my most memorable experiences had nothing to do with the place. I’ve been sad and lonely at the Taj Mahal, but I’ve had a blast while stuck in a train delay in Italy.
One of my favorite places in the world is and always will be Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is just three hours from where I grew up. I have so many fond memories of my family’s annual two-week vacation there. They brought us so close that now it hurts when life brings us apart. There’s nothing better than that, even if it’s bittersweet.
But this is the “family adventure” perspective. It allows me to take the banal and make it electrifying. I was fortunate to have parents who have (had – my father is no longer with us) a certain zest for life, even though we were always of modest means. Our humble lifestyle nurtured this mindset. It forced us to find excitement and joy in the little things, the day-to-day, and the nearby.
I travel frequently now, but I don’t do it to check off countries on some bucket list, or to brag on Instagram. I do it for my own reasons. But deep down, all I am doing is going on my own family adventure. Treating each day for the gift that it is and doing my part to try and make it special, even if that means enjoying the hell out of a crappy sandwich on plain old white bread in the middle of nowhere.