Vacationing in Carthage, Missouri was not something that just popped in my father’s head. It’s an annual four-day event called Marian Days, where Vietnamese-Americans make a pilgrimage to practice the Roman Catholic faith, pitching tents and parking RVs on 28 acres known as the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix. The idea of camping with my family has always made me cringe.
The humid mornings, scorching hot afternoons, and sticky, cold nights in August were not exactly incentives. The eleven-hour traveling time by car to and from the campsite didn’t help either. One week in the outdoors might have been unbearable if the congregation did not provide bathroom facilities or if Wal-Mart was not within two minutes away.
Marian Days was not camping by traditional terms. No, the campgrounds are surrounded by houses and apartments. Electric poles scattered between trees provide campers with sockets to plug in conveniences, such as whirring fans or rice cookers.
I had never cared about Missouri. I spent every first week of August as I normally did with blank eyes and a dazed mindset cooped up in a tent pitched along an avenue. It wasn’t until three summers ago that I found out how fun camping could be if I carried with me a different perspective.
I should have known things would be a little interesting from the night my family embarked on its annual escapade 723 miles to the north of Louisiana. Early in our journey, we solved a mystery. At one gas station, my siblings and I noticed clouds of tiny objects in motion outside the vehicle.
What it was we couldn’t explain. My father was pumping gas outside and completely disregarded the bits of unidentified matter clinging to his apparel. It was as if my mother, my siblings, and I were in a nucleus with thousands of little electrons flying all around us.
When the objects landed on the hood of the car, it was then that we realized they were grasshoppers and scores of other insects. How my father was able to drive away without a single bug entering the vehicle. I do not know how, but he did, and we arrived at our destination on an early morning.
The days passed by quickly. It was thrilling to play card games, UNO, and Phase 10. I didn’t really have an affinity for them before then. Yet, the summer of 2004 was different. My siblings and I were teenagers, having a grand time together. There were no fights, no conflicts or arguments. We were sarcastic, holding things lightly, and competitive in a good-natured sense. We even buried a make-shift time capsule.
Though we were not technically in the wild, we encountered bugs and squirrels. Cicadas numbered the hundreds. Every time any of us teens found a cicada shell, we’d terrorize our mother into hysterics until she reached for the broom and swiped at us. At one point, my sister, Theresa, adopted a pet caterpillar she kept captive in a plastic cup. Unfortunately, it died two days later.
Marian Days made me feel spiritual. During the open Masses outside on the lawn, my family and I sat Indian-style on our traditional Asian carpet. Flags of blue, yellow, and red lined the aisle leading to the altar. Boy and girl scouts carried plastic light sabers when priests served the Eucharist at night. The Mass services were relaxing and soothing, especially the hymns of the choir.
Food and festivities kept things interesting for me. I listened to jokes and songs sung by famous Vietnamese celebrities on the speakers. There were smells of roasted pork, fresh noodles, and funnel cake. Sight of the familiar Asian ice cream stand with flavors of jackfruit and mango took me back to my childhood, making me forget for a split second that I was a teenager.
I felt care-free when I visited the booths under open canvas tents with thousands of other people. Light poles guided my direction. CDs were being sold, as well as religious statues, rosaries, t-shirts, Asian fans, and more. Bubble tea was refreshing and enjoying it with my family was something worth videotaping. The last Mass on a Sunday morning marked the end. I retraced my steps and walked across the campus for the last time in solitude.
My parents invested so much into the trip and I was fortunate to reap in the rewards. Since then, I have reminisced about that one week in summer. I have replayed the memories and relive those moments to this day.
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