The sun is streaming painfully into my eyes. It’s bright and brilliant orange, kissing tree limbs and the tops of grasses as it makes its way to me. I tip my new 10-gallon straw cowboy hat down over my eyes to find shade.

This morning’s heat is intense. Today will be a candle-melter, and not good for the chocolate bar tucked between the seats in my car. I may come back to a bowl of soup.

Walking on the deck in my pointy-toed boots, I hear the sound of cowboys about to go head-to-head in a quick draw. The only things missing are spurs and a six-shooter. I’m not normally a cowboy kind of guy, but I love watching it on Yellowstone. It makes me want to pretend.

Finding the Impossible

In 1980, two days before my first wedding, which was to occur in my parents’ backyard on a lake, I decided it would be cool to surprise the bride with a ride down the aisle in a horse and buggy. “But where can I possibly find a horse and buggy?” I wondered. Nothing was in the phone book, and the Internet did not exist. So I started thinking about where there might be an abundance of buggies. I got in the car, drove out to Amish country, and started looking for farms with buggies. I’d stop, knock on the door, and tell them what I was looking for. Though people were friendly every time, these were tools they needed for their farms or to conduct their lives. And the more doors that shut, the more determined I was to find a horse and buggy. I had set my mind on it, and I was not going to stop looking. 

Down the Road

The next stop, a nice farmer told me that a cousin down the road had just taken delivery on a new buggy that had never been used. Soon I showed up at his door and explained my desire to make the wedding special. I told him I wanted to decorate the buggy with flowers and bring my bride down the aisle with her father. I offered to pay him, though I did not have much money to offer. He started thinking, and I felt a rejection coming, but instead he said, “I have a friend with a truck. I’ll deliver the truck with the buggy and my finest Tennessee Walker to you two hours before the wedding on Saturday. The only payment I want is a photo of the bride in the buggy.” We shook on it. 

A Liquid Chuckle

No one knew about this surprise, so we unloaded the horse and buggy, I decorated it with flowers, and right before going down the aisle, it was sprung on my wife-to-be. Soon, as I was standing at the front, “Here Comes the Bride” was played on an accordion. Next, the carriage with the bride slowly trotted to the side of the crowd, who gasped in awe. She walked up, and we were married by a minister who was an old family friend. After the ceremony, we sawed a log together, an old German tradition to signify working on life’s struggles together. One of the most memorable moments was when the horse took a leak in the middle of the ceremony. Everyone chuckled.

I can remember that day in great detail. 

Dueling ’Vettes

Just this past week, two friends of mine flew from their home in California to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they picked up two amazing new Corvettes. They then drove them across the country side by side, stopping at all the fun tourist attractions along the way. Not only was it a lifetime dream to own a couple of cool cars like that, they ended up making a memory that they say is one of their best lifetime memories ever. They could have easily bought the cars at a local dealer, but instead they built a memory.

Though memories are often accidental, life is about orchestrating memories. Where would we be without family vacations, celebrations, and special moments?

Thumbs Up

My dad taught me about memory-making by example. My head is filled with childhood memories of camping in our Airstream; getting stranded on a narrow mountain pass to Vail, Colorado, and hitchhiking into town; and having the convertible top slashed and all of our things stolen. We camped along Lake Erie across from Cedar Point, we boated and skied, we learned to sail, we even did Power Squadron courses in severe weather, and we often went to the amusement park. But memories did not stop there.

Sitting in a Circle

Many years later Dad built a tepee on his property, and we would have dessert there when guests were in town visiting the Adirondacks. We would sing around the campfire, bang drums, and tell ghost stories. That tradition will continue now that Dad is gone.

Ring the Breakfast Triangle

My father also built a tiny cabin with a wood stove and nothing inside but a table and chairs. It was called the Trapper Cabin, was decorated with antiques and old animal skins, and the first or last morning when visiting his house (called a camp), he would put on his chef’s hat and cook eggs, bacon, and pancakes for visiting guests. It was a tradition that lasted 30 years and made lots of memories.

Traditions and memory-making are hard work. Looking back, I realize just how hard my parents worked to create memories for us. It was worth it. So many people don’t have a lot of memories.

The Most Important Yet

Consider that this may be the most special summer ever. Many of us have been distanced from our families, unable to travel, and now that we are free and can see them, it’s a time to make special memories. Especially knowing things could change without notice and we might not have a chance to make more memories.

What memories will you make for yourself and your family this spring and summer?
Where can you go? 

What can you do?
What new traditions can you create?

It’s worth the effort. When everything else is gone, our memories last forever. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Last weekend I made memories with a dozen or so painters, painting together in Utopia, Texas. We painted on private farms and saw some stunning scenery! Thanks to Guy Morrow for organizing it. We’re keeping you in our prayers.

Some of my best memories have taken place at the painters’ events I’ve created. I’ve made hundreds of friends and a handful of best friends at events like the Plein Air Convention, which is a gathering of hundreds of artists who come to learn, paint together in a beautiful spot, and play (May 17-21 in Santa Fe). I have memories of painting in amazing places with them, and memories of silly stage moments like Plein Air Wars, the game show we’re doing on stage this year. We still have seats (highly unusual because normal years were sold out at this point), and for this year, we are providing an opportunity for online attendance since some cannot make it to Santa Fe.

When I was in my early 30s I went to the Adirondacks for the first time. The area became my photography muse, and later my muse for painting. Its beauty is unique, unlike any other place in America. There are 6 million protected acres of stunning scenery. I’ll be making memories and friendships there in June when I hold my annual spring artist retreat. There are no lessons, just painting and play with old and new friends all day for a week. We have lots of fun, and at this point we have a handful of seats left. It’s all-inclusive, one price for lodging, meals, and the event.

Memories will also occur painting in New Zealand this September. I have a few seats left.