>Arizona spurred my love for travel.

>The year I turned ten was an eventful year. My dad’s brother Blake and his wife Brenda (who happens to be my mom’s sister) and their two boys Bryan and Brad lived in the Phoenix/Mesa area in Arizona. That year my uncle passed away unexpectedly, not that we ever really expect it. That was April 15, 1996, one week before my tenth birthday.

Memories of the events to follow are hazy, but I remember my parents had me and my sisters stay with friends for a night or two while things were worked out. It was a very hard time for both families, and I feel the grief was multiplied because of my dad and my uncle being married to my mom and my aunt. My great-grandmother Leta Little, my dad’s grandmother, passed away less than two years later, the matriarch of our family.

Five years prior, my grandma, my mom’s mom, Mimi, promised me that when I was ten she’d take me to Arizona to visit our family out there. She didn’t fail. We had planned the trip for June 11-25 of 1996, I believe, and we still went even after events transpired in April.

It was a trip never to forget. My cousin Bryan sat in the seat next to me on our little plane from Peoria to Moline. He held my hand during take-off. That was my first time riding on a plane. We connected in Denver, and landed in our final destination at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix.

My aunt had arranged a limo to pick us up and take us to her house in Mesa, not too far away. I remember the seatbelt buckles being so hot that we could barely strap ourselves in. I think we stopped at a place called Water ‘N Ice to get shaved ice. I didn’t even want flavoring for it because it was so hot, probably the hottest weather I’d ever experienced. Aunt Brenda told us how sometimes they’d have to close the stores because of heat.

I remember when we were circling Phoenix, making our final descent, and I saw all these blue dots representing swimming pools. I knew that they didn’t have a pool, but her neighbor did. And it was complete with a diving board, fountain and dark blue tile. That was the first time I dove, and I belly-flopped. I’ve never dove since.

The grass was greener in many places there than it was in Illinois, I remember. When we got to the house, we found that the air conditioning had stopped working for whatever reason. Their house was much bigger and more open than my parents’ house in Illinois. I was fascinated.

The next two weeks were so much fun. We swam, and I burned. Brad, who was eight at the time, was so tan! We have pictures of us (that need to be scanned and saved digitally) of us seated next to each other and the contrast is evident. We made a trip to the Grand Canyon and stopped at Flagstaff and Sedona along the way. In Flagstaff we stayed at a hotel called Little America, which Aaron and I will be staying at in a few weeks. The Grand Canyon was gorgeous, although we didn’t hike or anything. I can’t wait to see it again.

My cousin Brad dominated at Monopoly. I got a new Cabbage Patch Doll. I also got a stuffed horse at the Grand Canyon gift shop that was named Charlie. Brad and I followed along on the atlas and I learned what a mile marker was.

When Mimi and I flew home, I was so sad. I cried for about a week after getting home from the trip. Maybe it was less; I was only ten and I don’t remember emotions very well! All I knew is that I wanted to go back. Illinois and all its cornfields just didn’t do it for me. As I get older I appreciate the Midwestern landscape here. I love the smells, how the growing corn sways in the late summer breeze. I will miss it.

And that, I believe, was the one event that made me love flying and traveling to new places. Arizona will always have a special place in my heart especially since Aaron has been there for a year for training and I’ve made almost four trips out there. Every time I am on a plane and we’re taking off, whether it’s to Bolivia, Spain or even soon-to-be Korea, I remember Bryan holding my ten-year-old nervous sweaty hand and the exhilaration I felt at the strange feeling in my stomach.

It’s so interesting how in life things come full circle. Fourteen years ago I never would have thought I would be back to Arizona, much less visiting all the places I’ve been to before. The world is smaller than we think.

I’m not sure how to wrap up this entry. I guess as I get older I start to remember more about my past and more specifically my childhood. I’m not sure why certain memories stick in our minds. I guess it will always be a mystery.

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