The Summer Project: French Lick Springs (1985)

French Lick, Indiana, is the hometown of Larry Bird. In southern Indiana, it's a good 5-hour drive from Chicago. In the summer of 1985, we spent a couple nights at a historic resort in French Lick Springs in what would be the last trip we made as a family.

How did we end up in French Lick? Through a promotion for a discounted room -- you just had to go through the timeshare sales pitch. In retrospect, I'm surprised my dad went for this, but maybe we needed a weekend away and this was getting us there at a nice hotel. After the long drive, we arrived and were given what had to be the smallest room in the hotel. I think my parents complained, because we were moved to a different room that wasn't a glorified storage closet.

I'm trying to remember if we had any fun on this trip. I golfed with Dad, which was nice. I still wasn't quite swimming yet, so that wasn't an fun option for me. And my sister Julie developed a terrible headache caused by a bad sinus infection, for which my parents had to find a doctor in French Lick while I stayed in the room watching my other sister.  I remember watching out the window overlooking one of the pools, overrun with obnoxious yuppies who we encountered the previous night at dinner. My other sister Jenny was supposed to go horseback riding with Julie but ended up going by herself and, according to my mother, wasn't happy about it.

So was the trip a bust? No ... we did manage to get away for a few days together, which didn't happen often, and that was nice. to some extent What I do remember as the best part of the trip was in the first hour, we were walking through part of the hotel (I think an auxiliary building near the second pool and the arcade) when we passed a girl, a cute brunette maybe my age or a little younger, who flashed me a smile and said hi. It was so obvious that Mon noticed and couldn't help but gush about it afterward. I spent the whole weekend looking for her, walking around the grounds with the hope I'd see that smile again and get the courage to strike up a conversation with her, but I couldn't find her again. It might not have made a difference -- the logical thing for us to hang out together and do was swim, which wasn't going to happen (I wonder if I would have given it a shot for a cute girl), but I never got the chance to find out.

Still, I think back to this moment as I watch Michael go totally shy/indifferent when a girl smiles or says hi to him (and it's happening more lately). I have told him once or twice that when this occurs, it doesn't mean that he likes her or should be embarrassed, but he should at least say hi back and smile -- because it's pretty damn awesome at that age.

Unfortunately, this was the last trip we took as a family. We left French Lick Springs and muddled through the long drive back to Chicago. We got stuck in traffic somewhere around Hammond, and I can remember the WMET DJs talking about musical underwear on the radio (joking that one song that might be included could be "You're the Biggest Part of Me"). Summer would end, and though fall was good, 1986 would be rough. A year after this trip, my parents would be separated, and there would be no more driving trips with the five of us. And that's why I look back on this weekend bittersweetly, not because nothing -- between Julie's headaches and the smiling girl I couldn't find again -- went right, but because it was a finale of sorts to the Gillespie clan.

I try to remember a happy time with all five of us, just the five of us, as a family after this trip, but can't, because I don't think there was one. And now I know, 30 years later, the most perfect weekend wouldn't have made any difference.


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