My paternal grandfather was raised by a single mother after his father passed away when he was very young. My paternal grandmother reportedly threw rocks and taunts at Lizzie Borden’s house as a child. She was a housewife and mom to seven children, the oldest with special needs. He was a sewing machine repair man in the textile mills of Fall River, Massachusetts. They were a hard-working Catholic family who lived extremely modestly – one pair of shoes a year (despite my father’s best efforts to hide his claiming they were lost in an attempt to game the system for a new pair – my grandmother always found them), everything used and reused, dining rooms as bedrooms, hand-me-downs, and walking both ways uphill in the snow to school each day (or so I’ve been told).
Yet, somehow, my grandfather managed to purchase a small house on Martha’s Vineyard. Every summer, my grandmother would pack up the kids and take the ferry over. Several of their friends and family also stayed nearby, their proverbial village temporarily relocating for a summer away from the city. My grandfather would work all week then take the boat over to spend weekends on the island.
Seems idyllic. A way to avoid the stinking factories of the city in the summer heat. Freedom and fresh air and ocean water for the children. A small community looking out for each other.
Until you realize, one summer when your dad takes you by the old house, this was not the Vineyard of recent presidential vacations. This was a house that was little more than a structure for sleeping. There was no hot water. No washing machine (unless you count the ringer contraption). My grandmother was known to say that her summers on the island, while seemingly enviable, were, to her, simply a change of kitchen.
We just spent the Columbus Day weekend and surrounding fall break days at Bald Head Island with my father-in-law. He has a place there that would put my grandparents’ island shack to shame with its modern conveniences – washing machine, dryer, dishwasher and an ocean view. Yet, I came home exhausted. There were still meals to prepare and dishes to do, kids to entertain and trips to urgent care made more complicated by the fact that we were on an island requiring a ferry trip to the car to the town that boasted the nearest doctor and pharmacy.
Every parent knows that once you have kids a vacation is less the refreshing retreat we once knew them to be and now just more of the same with a different view. With kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a change in location. And yet, we do it anyway. We pack up the sound machines and stuffed animals so they can sleep. We bring favorite snacks and movies and games and books to keep them entertained. We do the dishes and the showers and the pancake making because between all that is normal that comes with us on vacation are the miracles, the adventures, the memories.
The Bocci ball on the beach.
The sandcastle building.
The seashell seeking.
The boogie boarding.
The wave jumping.
The golf cart riding.
The crab clinging to the back of the swim shirt.
The washed up dead shark on the shore.
The dolphins cruising by.
The pelicans hugging their reflections in the waves like Narcissus.
The endless hands of Uno and Crazy Eights.
The dog walking.
The meals around the table.
So I get where my grandmother was coming from. But I also know that it would have been easier to stay in the one kitchen back on the mainland. And she didn’t. She, too, knew the value of the difference.
As for me, I’m ready to go back. Despite the 14 hours round trip in the car and piles of luggage that returned full of sand, seeing my kids experience joy, try new things and smile with pure abandon was a refreshing retreat for my soul, if not for my body. But I can rest that bag of bones anywhere.
It may not always be a vacation, but sometimes, a change in location can be even better.