As summer comes to an unofficial close with Labor Day, and beach towels and beach books give way to first-day-of-school outfits and backpacks, a small part of me breathes a sigh of relief.
We made it.
My wife, Carla, goes back to teaching second-graders. Our youngest, Jack, starts his freshman year in high school. Our middle kids, Joe and Claire, are away at college for their freshman and junior years. And our eldest, Bridget, is in her new job blocks from Penn Station.
Back at The Journal News, most sources will be back in the office, no longer on vacation.
But if Carla and I are happy at having navigated a family of six through another summer — including a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with all our beach gear bungee-corded to the roof — I can't help but wonder at another Kramer Family vacation, one that came to an end 50 years ago this week.
In Kramer Family lore, it will always be "The Trip." It started at our home, on Swan Street in Palisades.
It was June 1968, in the middle of a year of turmoil for our country, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and Tet and The Pill.
It was also the first full year my mother, Therese, was a widow. My father had died at age 43 in July 1967. Eleven months later, my mother celebrated her newly-minted bachelor's degree from St. Thomas Aquinas by taking the kids through Europe.
But no tour group would do for my wild Irish mother.
She would go solo — well, as solo as a mother of nine could go. She'd drive us through Europe, from Ireland to England to Paris, from Nuremberg and Wallersee and Kindberg, over the Alps, to Italy and Spain.
The kids were: Anne, 16; Joseph, 14; Mary, 13; Edward, 11; Christine, 10; Elizabeth, 8; Thérèse, 7; me, 4; and John, 3.
The only vehicle that would fit us all was a 1968 Volkswagen mini-bus, which my mother ordered over the phone.
She would take delivery of it at Shannon Airport, she told the incredulous salesman, and would learn the workings of the manual transmission — she had never driven a stick-shift vehicle — in the airport parking lot before setting off on our summer-long adventure.
There were maps, but no itinerary. If she came to an intersection, she'd occasionally take a vote to decide which way to turn the VW bus. We got through much of the trip thanks to Anne's high-school French.
We were gone from June, days after her graduation, until the first week of September, just in time, she said, "to shake out the school uniforms."
The Bergen Evening Record came to Palisades and published an article on the Kramer family's upcoming adventure (misidentifying us as the Cramers).
The reporter wrote that the 42-year-old mother of nine was "one of 15 mature women graduating with a class of 88 students." Mom told the paper "I think we senior citizens get the most out of school, but I couldn't get a date for the Senior Prom."
In the decades that followed "The Trip," my mother would regale friends, family and acquaintances with stories from the road: We saw Ireland's Gap of Dunloe, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the house where Anne Frank hid with her family, even a grisly bullfight in Majorca.
After years of being told "you should write a book" about The Trip, my mother penned "The Road Taken: A Memoir -- One VW Bus, One Widow, Nine Children," a slender work in which she juxtaposes The Trip with the loss of her husband. It was published in 2007, months before she died of cancer at age 81.
It's the after-summer read that I'm turning to, to try to figure out how she did it.
In the book's postscript, she offers to answer honestly questions we often asked, including: How did she do it?
"I managed by going through the motions of our everyday lives, doing mundane chores, laundry, shopping, cooking. Take note: I didn't mention dusting; I said I'd answer honestly."
Fifty years later, I still don't know how she did it, except to note that she was a woman of remarkable faith with a great sense of humor. That, I suppose, gets you far.
In the summer of 1968, it got us through Europe and back in time for school to start.