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Sharon Randall: The joys of traveling, for real or in dreams
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Sharon Randall: The joys of traveling, for real or in dreams

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Summer is a good time to travel. As a child, I spent most summers roaming the Earth through the dog-eared pages of an encyclopedia. That’s how I first discovered faraway places like Casablanca and California.

Reading introduced me to the world. But I traveled on flights of imagination. I would close my eyes and recreate in my mind a photo of a place or work of art that had caught my eye. Then my mind would take wing and carry me away to imagine how it would feel to visit that place and see that image in reality.

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I was especially fascinated by a photo of a statue that, according to the encyclopedia, had been carved hundreds of years ago by a man named Michelangelo.

In my expert opinion (I was 10), it was a perfect rendering of the David I knew from the Bible.

I wish you could see it. If you haven’t seen The David, look it up. You can thank me later.

Not only was it a breathtaking piece of art, it was also the first image I’d ever encountered of a totally nude male. I wondered: Did my mother know what was in that encyclopedia? And would I get in trouble for staring at it?

The only real travel I did as a child was to spend a few weeks on my grandparents’ farm in the mountains of North Carolina, or a weekend at Myrtle Beach.

But after college, I flew from the Carolinas to California — a place I had often visited in my dreams — to spend a summer with my favorite aunt, Shirl.

That was it. I stayed, married, started a family and, in time, began a career. And “California of All Places” (as my mother called it) became my home.

My husband was a teacher and a basketball coach. Our travels were limited to away-games and summer camping trips.

Our children grew up riding buses with basketball players and spending a week every summer splashing their mother in a river in Yosemite. They say it was a good way to grow up.

We seldom traveled far. But you can learn a lot about the world without ever leaving home, just by reading, watching, listening, asking questions, paying attention and dreaming.

My children were in their early 20s when we lost their dad to cancer. In the wake of his loss, we stayed close as a family. But we each began to find our own ways around the world.

My oldest, an actor, went to Romania to film a movie. My daughter went to Denmark to visit a friend. My youngest spent a month in Nepal, hiking the foothills of the Himalayas.

I did some “real” traveling, too. First, I went to Holland to be “best man” at the wedding of one of my husband’s former basketball players, who had lived with us for a year.

Then I went to London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Casablanca and, yes, Florence to see The David.

I also visited lots of places that didn’t require a passport, towns that had carried my column for years, where I met readers who made me feel like family.

The last chance I had to do that was more than a year ago, days before the pandemic lockdown, when I flew to Wichita Falls, Texas, to speak to hundreds of good people at a fundraiser for a local charity. It felt (as I often say) like a family reunion, without the fistfights.

I hope to travel for “real” again soon. But it will never take the place of simply traveling in my dreams, recalling people I’ve met and places I’ve been, and imagining the people I’ve yet to meet and places I’ve yet to go.

If you can’t afford to travel — or don’t care to spend days wandering through airports, wishing you’d worn more sensible shoes — here’s another way to see the world.

When you meet someone new, or spend time with an old friend, smile into their eyes and ask: “Where did you grow up? What was it like? What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever been? If you could go anywhere on Earth, where would you go? And why?”

I hope we all get to travel this summer. If only in our dreams.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at randallbay@earthlink.net.

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