My very first memories of my childhood begin at the age of 5. There are two early events that remain solidly etched into my mind. 1. The overwhelming excitement of waking up at 4am on the first day of kindergarten. 2. My first trip to Niagara Falls.
Now all I remember about that first day of kindergarten is that I could finally wear my first day of school dress. Don’t ask me about the rest of the day; I don’t recall. All I know is Mom built a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I’ve still got a burning passion for “back to school” clothes.
However, the trip to Niagara Falls is quite a different memory. If you think I’m going to tell you how gigantic and great those waterfalls were to my 5 year old brain, then forget it. The truth is, the endless rushing roar of the water, those ridiculous “let’s take your picture in a barrel” displays, my babysitter, and Eddie Murphy, left me completely mortified. I guess that explains why I waited until I was 35 to safely return.
Let’s go back in time: After checking into the hotel, I realized that I left something behind in the car. Obviously, in my 5 year old mind, it was an item so priceless that it just had to be retrieved immediately. My babysitter kindly offered to escort me to the parking lot while my parents settled into the room.
A bit of a side note here: babysitter traveled with us everywhere. She was/is family to us. I’m an only child and she was like a sister to me. A sister with a pet skunk. It’s not everyday you get a babysitter who is allowed to bring Stinky the Skunk over to play. And no, we weren’t wealthy people who traveled with a personal nanny or anything. We just liked her, and she liked us (and free travel I assume).
Anyway, we went out to the car and on the way in, she opened the huge 1986 glass door to the hotel, and inadvertently took my big toenail off at the same time. Cue the screaming and crying and running down the hallway back to the room, blood trailing behind. I was bound and determined to tell my parents that she had to go, along with my toenail left behind at the front door. But, after reassuring me that I wasn’t going to die, they put me on life support and tucked me into bed. I must have fallen into a deep sleep, enough of one that my babysitter decided to share her collection of Eddie Murphy comedy tapes with my parents. Do you know how incredibly awful it is to hear people laughing their heads off in another room while you are dying of missing toenail? It’s just the worst.
The next day they took me to see the waterfalls and told me that there are these (crazy) people out there who try to travel over them in barrels. So after trips down in the caves behind the falls, and an up close and personal view on The Maid of the Mist, I was fairly certain I didn’t want any more rides at this insane amusement park. And then they thought it would be cute to put me in a barrel at the aforementioned ridiculous “put yourself in a barrel and take a picture” displays. The only problem is, when you’ve barely gotten kindergarten under your belt, all you can think is, “I’m going over…without my big toenail.” The photos say it all. My big, red cheeks are streaked with tears while I wait for my life to end in a barrel built over falls of cardboard.
Well, it turns out, I lived. The toenail grew back, and I married an amazing man whose mom is Canadian. Since she’s from Ontario, she’s claimed for years that she has no time for Niagara Falls. I’ve gotten the, ‘Oh please, who wants to go there?’ line quite a few times, as if instead of a plastic pool in her backyard, she grew up with a rather annoying hundred eighty some feet of rushing water knocking at her back door. At first I didn’t get it, but now, after visiting some thirty years later, I totally understand. I will explain; just keep reading.
In March, the invitations to a Canadian wedding arrived in our mailboxes, and Paul and I, like we always do, decided to make a trip out of a rather long drive to Simcoe, Ontario. Never heard of Simcoe? That’s okay. It’s somewhere near Stratford, which used to be famous for my mother-in-law, but now is all, ‘We knew the Biebs when…’ Or I could be wrong; maybe they don’t like to admit to that. Either way, this is the place the Mom’s-in-law calls home, and there was going to be a family wedding, and we were invited.
You can imagine my mother-in-law’s disgust when we broke it to her that we were stopping at “The Falls.” The very ones from her backyard years ago. She was less than impressed, and I think, at one point, strongly considered hitching a ride with other relatives. But, as she always knows, we promise a good time no matter where we wind up, and we assured her, it would be worth the trip. These were the waters of her youth and, at 83, she just had to see them again.
So with our Starwood Platinum status in tow, we, along with what seemed like a million other Americans (is there an election going on or something?), crossed the border and made our way to the towering Sheraton on the Falls.
To put it short and sweet, they upgraded us to a room with a spectacular view of the falls, and thank goodness, because, I needed a serene escape from the chaos below.
I’m just going to say it…
Can we stop Pigeon Forging all of the beautiful places in this world? Can I see a remarkable natural wonder of the world without Ripley and friends? Believe it or not, I came here for the waterfalls! Just like when I go to the Great Smoky Mountains, I come for the camping and the bears, and not the go-karts of Gatlinburg and Dollywood. And I love Dolly, but please.
Truth is, I know, it’s all about the kids and giving them something to do, because, as I know from personal experience, those falls are terrifying. But you know what else is terrifying? Dad’s wallet. We don’t have children, but I can imagine Clifton Hill is not Dad’s favorite place on the family Niagara vacation. “Believe it or not, we don’t have any more money for the Rainforest Cafe! Just look at the water. It’s free.”
And this, my friends, is why I can understand why the Mom’s-in-law couldn’t possibly understand why we wanted to stop in Niagara Falls. But there is something remarkably special about us dragging her there. With the sliding glass door open to the glorious rushing roar of water, we all got to see the falls without the tourist frenzy. We got a front row seat to the fireworks bursting over the rainbow lit water. And we got to truly appreciate this incredible wonder of our Earth. It’s truly all in how you look at something.
Early the next morning, Paul and I boarded The Hornblower (the Canadian version of The Maid of the Mist), and once again, I journeyed to the bottom of those falls, thirty years later. Donned in a red plastic rain slicker and a baseball cap, with both big toenails and a husband, I came to understand how incredibly lucky I am. I’ve sat beneath the twinkling Eiffel Tower; I’ve eaten tapas in Madrid; I’ve seen the sun set over Sorrento; I’ve been to Napa; and I know how small I am in comparison to the great Niagara Falls…even at 35.