I write from the large, quiet beach house where 21 family members have been enjoying one another, and the various delights of vacation. I write from the solitude of the large dining room table which, this morning, was full of adults and children, from six to eighty, basking in the joy of breakfast, the smell of bacon and eggs, the delight of one another, the impending pleasures of a new day’s adventures.
Vacations come in two flavors, I see today. Early vacations in Spring are full of ‘what if,’ and ‘what shall we do,’ as well as ‘how wonderful to be together!’ They are powered by the kids’ freedom from the confines of schedules; they are super-charged by the joy parents have in being liberated from the homework and activities of their young. Early vacations are made more delightful because not everyone is free yet, the traffic isn’t gridlocked and because (even on Southern coasts), the evenings are breezy and cool and the bed is chilly not from air-conditioning but from nature.
Late vacations are also wonderful. All time together, laughing, floating in the pool, kickign the soccer ball on the beach, all of it is a sacrament of love. But this morning, lying in bed, I watched through the window as heavy rain rolled over the side of our rental house; it was a gray dawn, with high dark clouds, and reminded me that Summer is not half over, but sometimes still hints at Autumn. That Summer is a roller-coaster that runs faster and faster, and its cars are driven ever faster by the return of school, the heat of the season and by the advancing ages of the children we try so hard to keep young and nearby.
This is a late vacation; and an odd one. Several of two of our children and one of their cousins cannot be here. One is working, one is looking for an apartment, one is traveling in Ireland. One will leave for college in a few weeks. They are doing what they should; in the Spring of their lives, in their twenties, life is busy. But their absence punctuates the reality that all vacations, like every single year, change. In a sunny homage to Heraclitus, ‘you cannot step onto the same beach twice,’ as it were. Kids grow up, adults grow old and things move on to jobs and school; as they have and as they should. The alternatives are for our children to be stunted forever like pets, or to die. Better they should miss vacation.
The house is quiet, except for the dryer and the occasional young person scrounging for food and saying, ‘good night Papa!’ Or, ‘good night Uncle Ed!’ They make me smile, They inspire me. And every year, we return to do so many of the same old things, to hold the form and shape of vacation even as the substance (mostly the children) move in and out. And thus there is miniature golf, and bike rides; pizza night and games; throwing football and Frisbee on the beach. Even having overpriced ice-cream too late and after too much food.
These are scaffolds that remind us of the past, and on which the young will perhaps build their own future times, or (when the times are right) bring their own loves back into our rickety traditions to enliven them.
This late vacation is drawing to a close, and I will miss it. But we have a deep trove of memories, all of us, and we have build not only the frame but the solid foundation of love upon which families, this family, can stand for generations to come.
Tomorrow it will be hot and muggy. But we will run on the beach with reckless, joyous abandon.
Nothing can take that from us as we drain the last drop of joy from this pitcher full of love and tradition.