By The Sea

Seaweed. The taste of salt on my lips. The smell of sea air. These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of childhood summers spent on Cape Cod.

            The year was 1966, and it was the first time we had ventured to that popular ocean getaway favored by so many upstate New Yorkers.  On the advice of family friends who rented a house there every year, my parents thought it sounded like just the ticket for our young family of six.

            My five-year-old self was beyond excited by the prospect of dipping into the ocean for the very first time.  Up until that point, my swimming was confined to our navy blue kiddie pool, constructed of canvas and supported by a frame of metal tubing; or the lake at Cherry Plains where we had huge family picnics with my parents’ relatives.  At one of those affairs, an old Italian great-aunt tricked me into eating a piece of barbequed “chicken” which later turned out to be rabbit. But that’s a story for another time.

            My father rented a cottage for us in Dennis Port.  Just the word “cottage” thrilled me, since cottages where only ever mentioned in fairytales.  I pictured an enchanted house built of cobblestone and thatch, covered in flowering ivy. It had a beautiful garden and a wishing well. If they had called it a bungalow, I probably would have envisioned jungles and men swinging on vines; certainly a different kind of vacation altogether. But no. I would spend one charmed week in a cottage by the sea.

For several days leading up to the trip, my mother prepared. She bought each of us new sunglasses. She packed our clothes, our sheets, towels, pots, pans, cleaning supplies… Were we moving to Cape Cod? 

I distinctly remember the chaos of jamming everything into our sedan.  My father packed the trunk without success.  There were things that simply wouldn’t fit.  

“We just can’t take everything, that’s all,” he said with a shrug. He started to eliminate items based on I don’t know what.

Enter my mother. When she saw what he was doing, she bolted from the house.  There were words, if I recall.  She unpacked the trunk and put everything on the ground next to the car.  With her hands on her hips, she surveyed her inventory and then slowly and methodically repacked all of it into the trunk with not an inch to spare.  She shot my father a look of great satisfaction, he muttered something under his breath and, with that, we were ready to go. 

Dramatic Reenactment

            My father slowly inched our over-stuffed boat of a car down the slope of our driveway, scraping the bottom of it just as we pulled onto the street.

            I remember a few things about that interminable drive to my storybook vacation. I remember my oldest brother, Dominic, trying to ignore the rest of us because he was a teenager and simply too cool.  I remember being sandwiched between my brother, Michael, and sister, Diana. They were needling each other so much that my parents threatened several times to turn the car around and go home.  I remember the floor of the car had a hump upon which I rested my feet. But what I remember most was being too little to see out of the windows and all the horn honking, swearing and swerving my father did during that ride made me nauseous and terrified. Not being able to see made it just that much more unnerving. Is this how it would all end? I simply couldn’t die before seeing my cottage!

            By the time we crossed over the Bourne Bridge, I was barely holding on.  But I knew if I threw up on my siblings, I would die a worse death than anything a major car accident could hold in store for me.

“Look out the window, kids!” said my mother, as she opened hers to the fragrant salty air.

            I got up on my knees and could see the water and blue skies and sail boats.  It was nothing short of magical.

            Consulting his maps and handwritten directions, my father drove to the rental office, picked up the key and we headed to our rented property. The paved roads became narrow bumpy lanes covered in sand.  We pulled up next to a modest wooden affair, with sun-bleached cedar shingles, an asphalt roof and a screen door.  

“Here we are,” said dad brightly. “Home sweet home!”

This? This is my cottage? Where’s the stone? Where’s the ivy?  Where’s the ocean?! Instead of a garden and a wishing well, there were some spiky clumps of sea grass, two Adirondack chairs, a charcoal grill and a yellow plastic sand pail the previous occupants had likely forgotten or couldn’t fit into their trunk.  The cottage was situated among a cluster of others just like it. There was not a drop of water in sight.  I was totally and immediately disenchanted.

(L-R) Me with my sister Diana that first summer in 1966

At this point, I’d like to switch gears for a second and tell you about the very first date I had.  Out of necessity, it was actually a double date – with the boy’s parents.  We were both 14 and therefore too young to drive. They took us out to dinner and I ordered the Salisbury steak, for two reasons. One, it was the cheapest thing on the menu so I thought that was the polite thing to do. Two, it was steak.  When it was served, imagine my surprise to learn that it was not a steak at all. Rather, a Salisbury steak is a gargantuan oval-shaped patty of ground beef covered in a brown sauce. 

So, why am I telling you this?  Well, right about now, you might be thinking I was an ungrateful brat. And who could blame you? But try to bear in mind that I was five.  A five-year-old doesn’t understand that her father works long, hard hours, often missing dinner and bringing work home from the office, so he can take his wife and four kids on a vacation.  A five-year-old can’t appreciate that for her mother, this is not much of a vacation at all. It’s more of a relocation. She’s still cooking, cleaning, and tending.  So, in my defense, I was simply a five-year-old child – with a wild imagination and impossible expectations – who didn’t get the steak she thought she’d ordered. Now, back to Cape Cod:

We spent the next eternity unpacking the car and fighting over who got which rooms. 

Children are not famous for their patience, and in that respect, I was a normal kid.  At about this time, I started whining, “When are we going to the beach?”

“The beach? Well, if there’s time, we’ll go after we get back from the supermarket,” my mother said while making up our beds. 

If there’s time? The supermarket? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Wasn’t this supposed to be a beach vacation? Since I was not running the show, it appeared I had no say in the matter. We piled back into the car and left to partake of every child’s favorite vacation activity – grocery shopping. Once the food was purchased and unloaded, I could stand it no longer.

“I thought…we came here…to go…to the beach,” I cried, lips quivering and voice cracking.

I’m not sure if my mother took pity on me, or wanted us out of her hair while she made dinner, but she told my father, “Start the coals and then take them to the beach. Come back in half an hour.”

“Yippee! We’re going swimming in the ocean!” My tearful sobs turned into gleeful delight. I was alternately jumping up and down and running around in circles. “Woohoo!”

“Um…” my father proceeded gently, “we’re not actually going to swim.”

I stopped mid-twirl and stared at him, confused.

“Tomorrow,” he said. 

When he saw the waterworks about to start again, he quickly added, “I promise! It’s too late to go swimming today, but tomorrow we’ll spend the whole day at the beach. And the day after that, and the day after that, and every day we’re here. Today, we’re going to go to the beach and see the ocean. We can even put our feet in. But tomorrow, we will swim.”

My father kept that promise. We swam.  Boy, did we ever! And when we weren’t swimming, we sat in the warm sand and ate the sandwiches my mother packed in the cooler.  We were even allowed to drink soda, which was normally reserved for only the most special of occasions. Dominic decided he wasn’t too cool to play with us and taught us how to body surf. He and Michael pulled Diana and me around on rafts. We peacefully played games together. We all collected seashells, flew kites, played miniature golf, went out for ice cream, visited a lighthouse and a sailing museum, and on and on and on.

When the week was up, I hated to leave the beautiful little gray cottage I had fallen in love with. Nearly every summer after that, we did our best to return to Cape Cod. Each time, I dreaded the long drive but turned giddy and relieved as soon as we reached the Bourne Bridge. Our rented homes got bigger with each vacation to accommodate more of our extended family – aunts, cousins, and eventually spouses and children of our own.

(L-R Circa 1970) Dominic, Diana, Michael, Mom, Me, Dad in another rented house in Dennis Port

I still come back from time to time.  My husband and I take our children to play mini golf at the same places I played. We go out for ice cream at the same parlors. We swim in the same big ocean. In fact, this post was written in Dennis Port. From a house by the sea. 

Many years later, my father flying a kite with his first grandchild on West Dennis Beach

It’s About Time

Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children.  College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way.  That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.

We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year.  Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.

I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.

Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.

New York. January 9th, 4:00 am

It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.

I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen?  Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?

Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation.  My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.

Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either.  Here’s what happened instead…

New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm

With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four.  So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”

When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.

Uh-oh.

He emerged within moments.  I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt. 

Oh no.

“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!” 

Oh, dear god.

His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).

Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone.  According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)

“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“I just won’t go,”  he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”

There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.

“Get in the car,” I said. 

I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm

The entire college was closed for winter break.  We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm.  While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze.  We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.

As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas.  Hello putrid garbage.

Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.

Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car.  My son looked stricken.

“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”

“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!” 

“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.

“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”

“Dad found my passport.  In my room. At home.”

For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”

As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.

“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.

“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.”  And this was the truth – for three reasons.  One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore.  That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy. 

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm

It was time to stop for gas.

And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing.   It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real.  You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day.  It can be on your side or your worst enemy.  And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it.  So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first!  Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.

Anyway, back to the gas…

We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.

At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?

Screw it.  I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.

New York. January 10th, 4:02 am

As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front.  My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it.  I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport. 

Now, you probably think this is the end of the story.  Well, it’s not.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am

Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes. 

My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.

My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass.  She tried it again.  BLOOP! Nothing.

My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again.  Still no boarding pass.

Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid.  She tried the scanner.  Same thing.  No boarding pass.

“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”

What a relief.  She saw the problem.  She was going to fix it. Problem solved!

She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am

I could not breathe.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am

Everything went silent.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am

The blood drained from my face.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am

There was ringing in my ears.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am

Time stood still.  Now time stood still?  THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am

The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”

I looked at my husband.  I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did.  Maybe it didn’t.  What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt!  Danger!!”

My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”

I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister.  I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”

San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am

When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away.  I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm.  The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.

After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.

The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.

Fluffy Rosner, Guest Blogger

Fluffy Rosner wants to know

Fluffy Rosner wants to know

This will be a short post because I don’t have thumbs, so typing is kind of hard for me.

I’m filling in for my mom because she went on vacation…without me. I’m not saying I should have gone with her…and daddy…and my brother…and my sister (basically everybody else, but me). I know it’s hard to travel with me. I need my special things: my potty pad, my bowls, my special food, my toys, my bed, my treats, my Metamucil (it’s a long story, kind of personal and embarrassing, so I’d rather not get into it). With all my stuff, and having to carry me sometimes, it would be like traveling with a toddler (although, I can’t imagine them leaving a toddler behind…)

I know they need a break because they all work kind of hard-ish. They have stress from doing people things like walking upright, being allowed in restaurants, going to the movies, dancing – all those terribly stressful human things. But, you know, we dogs have our share of stress, too.

While we’re flopped on the sofa, drooling, snoring, whatever, we are thinking! That’s right. We are great thinkers. We think about our next meal, our favorite toys, our next walk, chewing your favorite pair of shoes if you don’t take us on our walk, etc. And of course, we are always on high alert, should you require our protection – you already have our loyalty and love (you’re kind of needy, come to think of it). All these demands are a lot of pressure for pups.

I think dogs should get a vacation once in a while. I wonder if you agree. That’s why I’m posting a poll this week. Tell me, shouldn’t your beloved four-legged family member get a holiday, too?