Well the countdown has begun. This week my family and I are going on our first ever interstate road trip. I have been preparing for months, thinking of every possible weather condition we need to dress for, any ailment that might occur, every boredom that might attack. We are packed to the top of our minivan with goggles, antacids, Nintendo DS games, crayons, band aids and snack foods galore. Yet I remain confident there is something I’ve overlooked. What if the surf shoes cause blisters? Did I pack lip balm incase of sunburn? How many drink boxes do we need? Probably three dozen more than I’ve packed.
My kids have never seen the ocean before. They have no idea what it feels like to swim in salt water. Or how salty it really is. They have no idea how cold the ocean can be. I can’t wait to see their faces when they realize how vast the ocean is, how big the waves are. They are used to swimming in tiny ponds and indoor college swimming pools. This trip is going to be one that they will remember all their lives. I am excited to tears at how important this trip is in the childhood memory-making department.
When I was a kid we were very poor. My mom was raising three kids by herself. Every family on our street was married with kids. One time one of our neighbors decided to take up a canned goods drive for us, unbeknownst to my mom. This neighbor went up and down our whole street and asked all our neighbors if they would donate food for us. My mom was extremely embarrassed by it. She was a very proud person who worked full-time and did the best she could to provide for us: we were clean, healthy, fed, went to church every Sunday and education held in the highest regard. And every summer I felt like a rich kid. We had a yearly tradition of spending a week at Cape Cod. Not at all because we were rich, but more by a chance occurrence.
A decade before I was born my mom rented out a room to a woman from Massachusetts. This woman was wealthy, but not at all in a showy way. It was discreet family money. Her family lived very frugally. I remember watching her mother rinse out orange juice cans and tin foil to save. I always thought that was one of the secrets of the wealthy. Actually, she had lived through the Great Depression. Some things stay with you no matter where your life ends up.
This roommate, and eventual close family friend to this day, had a home on Cape Cod. Her wonderful family kindly took my mom under their wing, and every year they would generously invite her to visit them at Cape Cod in the summer. This became a yearly tradition for my mom, and eventually, for my siblings and I as well. Even now, I can still vividly remember cramming into our old Ford Maverick, full of rust and a bad patching job, and off we’d go to our week in heaven.
Kids live in the moment. I don’t think I ever realized how fortunate we were to go to Cape Cod every summer. It was just something we did. Something wonderful and comforting to look forward to. Something that would make me feel like we were a regular family. It was a time when we were truly happy and carefree. We didn’t worry about bills. Or dealing with my father’s wife. Or feeling like the neighborhood misfits because we were the kids with the divorced parents.
Cape Cod for us was like Christmas in July. Literally. Everything was magic. We’d swim all day and after dinner we’d walk on the pier as we tried finishing our chocolate soft-serve ice cream cones before they melted all over us. Lying on the sand dunes at night we’d look out into the sky monitoring for satellites, possible UFO’s and discuss where the planes heading out over the ocean could be landing next. I would practice taking mental notes of every moment we spent collecting horse shoe crabs, or rolling down the sand dunes, or floating on the bay or traveling to Provincetown to see the art galleries. Even the smell of the sweet scrub pine trees was catalogued in my mind as part of a living dream so I could recall it again and again throughout the following school year.
It has now been eighteen years since my last trip to the Cape. I hope that some things in this world don’t change. The first night there I’m going to go to the top of that very sand dune to look for those satellites again – but this time I’ll be showing them to my kids. I hope this vacation gives my children some memories they can recall and enjoy their whole lives. Maybe we can make it a yearly tradition. Perhaps they might want to return to Cape Cod again someday with their own families. Maybe that very sand dune will still be there for them to climb to the top of so they can look out for those satellites. Or airplanes. Or UFO’s.