A Childhood Vacation

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.”

 

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“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.

 

Hither Hills

The eastern end of Long Island at Hither Hills, N.Y. on a sweet summer day.

 

 

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Family, Mother Nature, Simplicity. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Childhood Vacation

  1. Such clear memories. This reminds me of our trips to Lake Michigan except the 5 of us (mom, dad, me and 2 older brothers) were stuck in a 16 foot trailer during the storms.

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  2. Mary Jo Doig says:

    Talking with my Long Island sister yesterday evoked more details (even though she was 5 at the time), though I’ll never forget what happens when you touch a tent roof in the rain. Luckily you were in a trailer, and I’ll bet you have stories about that time. Bonnie and her husband have often returned to Hither Hills on anniversaries (they are such water people) but stay in a hotel right by the campsite. Thanks, as always, for visiting.

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  3. Love this story! Thank you for sharing it. I admit to having better memories of family camping. And still love to camp, especially by myself.

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  4. Mary Jo Doig says:

    That’s wonderful! I can live vicariously through your camping experiences. 🙂

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  5. Great story! I especially relate to the adults getting cranky – what a handful they had! I never camped as a child and never camped with my children. Lots of camping as an adult with other adults has been a mix of the good and the bad (the bad often weather-related). Camping is fantastic for getting in touch with Mother Nature. She certainly made herself known in your experience on Long Island. WOW!

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    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Writing this story helped me see, for the first time, how we in our family were easily discouraged by something like this happening. Other families would have tried again. I’ve often felt drawn to camping but the simple fact is I never crossed paths with another person who was interested. Yet, I might in the future… Who knows what can happen when we set an intention? I know what a gift (mostly) camping is for you and celebrate with you the wondrous things you see and create poetry from. Many thanks to you for those gifts. 🙂

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  6. pamelajane1 says:

    I loved this story, and it brought back memories of a canoe trip where the canoe kept getting snagged rocks because the river was low – and yet at night it poured and I, too, discovered that wet tents are not very hospitable shelters!

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    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      I always marvel at how a seemingly small and perhaps even unimportant life story can trigger our connections to similar memories. It’s one of the things I love most about memoir! Thanks for sending your memory; I was delighted to share it.

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