The first vacation my childhood family ever had taken was approaching and we were all so excited. My mother and her lifelong best friend, Geneva, had planned it. Geneva’s three kids were Kathy, about my age, 14ish; Eric, close to my sister Jackie’s age 8; and Joanna, near my sister Bonnie’s age 5. The two husbands would be working —my father on Long Island where we lived, and Geneva’s husband, Prince, in New Jersey, their home state. On the last day of our vacation, the fathers both would help us pack up and go home.
When the big day finally arrived, we kids all helped pack the two cars with camping gear, food, and clothing, then jumped into our mothers’ cars. We barely noticed the thick, menacing clouds overhead, as we drove to Hither Hills State Park on Montauk Point, the eastern end of Long Island.
The drive was long, but with so much anticipation in the air, my sisters and I were pretty well-behaved during those 75 miles. When Mom finally turned into the huge sandy parking lot and turned the motor off, Geneva pulled in right next to our car. We kids hopped out of the cars and started to run to the path toward the ocean. Mom called, “Come back here as soon as you’ve seen the ocean. I need you to help carry things. And tell me if the water is gentle or rough today.”
“We will,” we shouted, as we ran toward the broad opening between two sand dunes ahead, densely covered with swaying dune grass. We stopped between them and from this gateway stared with awe at the broad, gray expanse of water about 150 feet in front of us. The ocean! The water met the sky as far as we could see. Today the endless waves were rough and crashed noisily, one after another with much ferocity, but we were so happy to be there we gave them no thought. Nor did we notice there were just one or two people walking the beach, strong winds blowing whipping their garments. We didn’t wonder where the numerous people scattered across the sand on blankets beneath bright red, blue, yellow, or orange umbrellas were, who were always present on any day we went to the ocean near our home. This was all new: this was our first visit to Hither Hills. We didn’t understand this ocean was an extension of the one at home.
We watched the waves until we felt chilled, then returned to our Moms’ cars.”The water’s really rough,” we told them. They didn’t seem surprised.
Soon, our arms embracing all kinds of beach and camping gear, we followed our mothers’ down the beach until we reached an elongated oval of sand that contained large square cement pads, located privately behind the dunes. It was surrounded by vast sand imprinted with endless foot indentations that resembled tiny mountain ranges.
Mom and Geneva began to set up two tents, a large one for them and whichever kids wanted to stay with them. As the wind whipped up more, making tent setting-up quite a challenge, I helped with the small pup tent, where I planned to stay. In late afternoon, Mom and Geneva had the two tents set up just as the big drops of cold rain began. We hurried into one of the tents for cover as a downpour fell on us. Somehow we managed supper in the big tent without getting completely soaked. After eating, Cathy, my little sister, Bonnie, and I scrambled back into to the pup tent. It was fun for awhile as we played cards, but we soon got bored. We hadn’t brought much more indoor activities. Outside was where we’d planned to be.
Finally, darkness descended as rain poured down on us. Kathy, Bonnie, and I lay on our backs and watched our tent top. The weight of the rain caused the 45-degree angle to droop much closer to our heads. I decided to touch the tent top with my pointer, for a reason that I no longer recall. I pushed up on the rain weight and held it as though it might stay elevated, which, of course, it didn’t. But it did do something else, when I took my finger away, rain dropped down onto me from the spot I’d touched.
“Huh,” I said. “Look, the rain’s leaking in.” Four other eyes gazed where I pointed. Then I did something pretty quirky. I began touching one spot after another about ten more times and when I removed my finger, sure enough, rain dripped down from each spot, not a steady stream, but a regular drip, drip, drip. Bonnie touched a space above her and Kathy did, too. They were wiser children than I, for one touch was enough for them.
It rained all night as we lay curled up so we weren’t beneath any of the drips. I don’t recall how much sleep we got, which I imagine was little, but I do remember that water covered our tent floor in the morning. We quickly scooted over to the big tent where things were much dryer than our tent, but the people inside were getting cranky. Some of us soon declared we didn’t like camping and wanted to go home. The heavy rain continued. Finally my mother called my father for help. He arrived several hours later, in a dark mood because he’d had to leave work, and within an hour, all of us soaking wet, we hauled everything back to the cars.
I talked with Bonnie yesterday and asked if she remembered the Hither Hills camping trip.
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“Have you ever gone camping again?”
“Nope,” she said crisply. “That was it. The first camping trip. The last camping trip.”
“For me, too,” I said. We laughed.
Unwittingly, whoever had scheduled our vacation had chosen dates that matched the arrival of one of the worst Nor’easter’s of that summer of 1954.
The eastern end of Long Island at Hither Hills, N.Y. on a sweet summer day.