“Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.”
(This memoir was written and the sketches drawn when I was about twenty-one. I called the story “The Negative Side of a Plus Vacation”. It was a plus because my family rarely took vacations and this was to be a beach getaway with a rental cottage near the ocean in Lavallette that would be a real treat. The negatives were things that seemed traumatic at the time but are the reasons I remember the trip. Needless to say, it was a time before cell phones and Internet.)
From my younger self:
It was decided that bright and early Saturday morning, the last one in July, the whole family would move bag and baggage to the shore. The idea was to spend one month relaxing, getting tanned and having a good time. This was accomplished in varying degrees and at rather sporadic intervals during our stay.
The whole caravan, after some two hours of loading our gear, consisted of my parents, three brothers, two sisters, myself, one car filled to overflowing, and one yellow sports car which had no room for any baggage, except two people and the tennis rackets.
We left as early as planned, minus a few hours lost trying to decide such weighty matters as “Would leaving the dog at a kennel be bad for its psyche?”, “Should we bring warm clothes just in case?” and “Does anyone have any overdue library books?”
We were also delayed by having to unpack unnecessary items which were put in the car by the youngest saboteurs—things such as their life savings of paper dolls and baseball cards, an entire army of toy soldiers including the fort, and a number of inflatable beach toys which had long since lost their inflatability.
Undiscouraged, we set out on the two-hour trip which we made in record time—five hours. Having spent three hours in traffic covering the last five miles of the beach road at tortoise-like non-speed, we innocently enough didn’t realize it could be a portent of things to come.
After obtaining the keys to the house at the real estate agent’s office, registering at the police station for beach tags, and shopping for food supplies, we turned to the task of unloading the load which had been loaded only hours before. The baby said, “Isn’t this fun?” It was a loaded question.
The next morning was like a new start. The sun was hot and it was a perfect beach day. For Daddy and I though, it was over much too soon. Our vacations were limited to weekends until the later part of the month. So, Sunday night, the two of us rode off in the little yellow sports car in the general direction of New York City and the nine-to-five world. Behind us, we left the others to their leisure.
Leisure? Frantic phone calls from my mother relayed the first melodrama of the season. One night early in the week, my littlest brother came down with the croup. Since there was no phone in the beach house, my mom sent a brother and sister to call a doctor from a phone booth. They only had one quarter, and since it was four am, there was no place to get any more change. Naturally, my sister called the wrong number, got told off by the man she disturbed, and came back to the house with the bad news.
Excitedly, they searched for more change until someone found a dime which had fallen into a crevice somewhere. (All the while, my little brother was breathing with difficulty, my other brother was telling my sister how stupid she was, and my mother, alarmed and alarming, was thinking out loud about the fatality of croup.)
They raced off again into the frightening, deserted, dark of the beach town and phoned again. The doctor’s wife answered, angry that they would call at such an ungodly hour, told them that the doctor was sleeping and to give my brother a lollipop to suck on. If he still had trouble breathing in the morning, she could give him an appointment.
Thankfully, my brother fell asleep in the meantime and, in the morning, help was finally obtained—but from another doctor. The problem was solved, or so it seemed until my mother tried to cash a check to pay for his prescription. After waiting for a credit okay from home via phone, the medicine was obtained.
For the rest of the week, the only thing my youngest brother required was rest. My mother got snatches of a tan in the backyard when my middle sister would watch him. My little sister complained that no one would take her to the beach. My oldest brother offered because he said he didn’t enjoy going by himself. However, my mother considered him too young to watch her. As a result, by the time the weekend came, they were all getting in each other’s hair.
We told them not to lose hope for the family would be reunited in its hour of need for dinner on Friday night. We were and everyone relaxed. We all got in some weekend beach time bodysurfing at the ocean and crabbing in the bay.
Toward the end of the month when all eight of us could stay, my dad and I joined the others in full vacation mode. In fact, it was pretty mellow until my oldest brother and I took a spin in the little yellow sports car and the brakes failed. At least I was driving at a low speed down a side street, so we were unhurt and the car was fine. A neighbor’s split-rail fence was the lone casualty. Amends were made and that evening we enjoyed a cookout on our deck overlooking a canal from the bay, thankful for eluding disaster once again. We all crossed our fingers and toes that the rest of the vacation would be mellow. It was… until the end of the month when we sat in traffic gridlock for much of the return trip.