Editor’s note: Robert Warren first told this story on stage at the Des Moines Storytellers Project’s “Voyages: Life-changing experiences through travel.” The Des Moines Storytellers Project is a series of storytelling events in which community members work with Register journalists to tell true, first-person stories live on stage. An edited version appears below.

At first it sounded charming, like a Norman Rockwell painting, to go on our first-ever family vacation to a quaint little cottage