Friday, June 21, 2013

It's Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-sum summertime!

Summertime again and it looks like another hot one like last year, but anytime the temperature gets near 70 degrees or so, MSers begin their group impression of the Wicked Witch of West after a light shower - I'm Melting, melting...

OK, enough complaining.  What did MSers do without air conditioning until Mr. Freeze stuck cold air in a metal box and said "put it in your window"?

Before there was any thought of disease riddled adult hood, there were the summer vacations, real ones.  That last half day where everyone just went through the motions like a lousy team waiting for the season to end - counting the minutes or the outs- and then the bell rings and you are out! We don't have to be there again for two and a half months.  By the side doors from the school there was a set of three concrete steps to the sidewalk.  Each year I would leap those steps on that last day and do it so I would have gotten an A in Gym Class for something anyway.  Cleaned out the lockers, stuffed everything in a book bag, and lugged it the 13 blocks to home.

Some kids went to camp, some continued their Little League careers, others went to visit relatives.  I just stayed and read books, helped with chores (mow the lawn - and then pick up the grass in an immense grass picker-upper that hated me and would not work for me no matter how many times my father demonstrated how easy it was), watched TV - lots of baseball-, played ball with neighbors or just hung out with my dog, and waited.

Not for school, at least.  That anxiety came much later in August.  In mid-July, the anxiety was for a place, a place as magical as a Disney castle, and as real as the gritty sand in my sneakers.





You've probably been somewhere once where you had a great time and then you went back and try as you might, the place disappoints?  Cape Cod never did. I hope you have someplace like that as well.

The Cape exists in my mind as it did from 1968 - 1976.  Departure would require a five A.M. roll call - not really, but my father considered it his true mission in life, aside from making steel and growing roses.  Pre-pack done? Sir, yes, sir! stuff everything in to the (Impala, Matador, generic car), maps? where's the dog? bathroom visits, what did we forget so we don't have to turn around three blocks from home but do anyway?

Eventually, we were on the road.  My dog always seemed to know we were disappearing for whatever time frame dogs think in (I think they live in "now" as Tall-things-that-feed-me here or not here now) but she seemed to know that a neighbor would come over and spend lots of time with her.  Still, when we left for the Cape and when we returned she would be in the from room window, looking out for us, breaking and certainly flaunting my mother's rule of her not walking on the front room rug.  I did my best to follow that rule with my dog, but sometimes she'd see that-tall-thing-female was not there, and she'd be over to visit (and I'd secretly rooted for her).  So she'd wait.

Through the back woods of upstate New York we drove looking for the key to the East.  There was a part of my father that thought he was Columbus looking to the passage to China, or in our case, Dennisport.  The secret route had no highways, turnpikes, rotaries, or, please God, bridges.  Alas, as Columbus found out, there was no easy pass way to get to the Mysterious East, but at least, when we arrived on Cape Cod we did not wipe out the natives with smallpox.

We did better. We brought the family.

My parents (OK, maybe just my father) lived under the mistaken assumption that no one had ever of going on vacation in Maine or Cape Cod in the summer, and that we had "beaten everyone" and that we could easily find a place to stay two weeks, perhaps right near the Kennedy's if Rose and Teddy didn't mind.  It would normally take three or four stops at rental agents or realtors, which of course were all located on rotaries so my father would drive past the place a couple of times until he figured out how to turn in or my mother would tell him to pull in in a voice that my dog heard back in Troy.  Something was found someplace, and eventually we stayed in a place like this:




This is near or at the Old Landing Motel in Dennisport where we ended up most years.  As you can see, it was just a short walk and a twenty foot drop to the beach and the warm water of Nantucket Sound.  And sand, plenty of sand.

There were always surprises.  Visitors were expected to arrive at a certain place at a certain time, and we'd all be there.  The challenge was guess who was in the car when it arrived.  For the comfort of the waiters (that's us) we would gather at a corner store on Route 28 for pizza, soda, beer and comic books. And we'd wait to see who'd drive up and in what car.

In 1969, we were expecting my brother, his wife, and his two kids.  Pulling up, was my brother all right, and my sister's boyfriend. No wife, no kids. One of those scenes that required the development of "Awkward!"  Seems there was a slight spat and my sister in law opted out, along with the kids. Change of plans! My parents told my brother that this was unacceptable.  The two weeks passed quietly.

So in 1970, we needed to liven things up.  Following The Most Outrageous Wedding Ever in 1970, we left the following day two hours after we got home from said wedding.  The following day the bride and groom arrived as planned, but my sister's new husband got sun poisoning.  He had so much sun cream on him by the following day that he could just glide from room to room.

The following few years are all just a mish-mosh of memories and I wish I could put up pictures, but there are so few vacation shots left (for a lot of reasons) and the 8 mm film had faded. But I remember the meals at the Pancake Man:



and you will too in a few minutes, but also, beach walks, Duforts bakery (which was in Troy, but to my father everything was Duforts - melt away pastries), the Kon Tiki gift shop and miniature golf center:



and walking around Hyannis which everyone did on a rainy day, and we should have known that but we did it anyway on the outside chance of seeing a Kennedy (did see the limo once - but the Secret Service discouraged us from further investigation).

But to me the thrill was to see the Hyannis beach where JFK walked and pondered.  Still is. Didn't need to have a statue, I could always see him (probably first sign of mental illness, Bobby may have wise-cracked).

Back to the Pancake Man.  They had great steaks - two inches thick, two inches wide, and two inches long with baked potato and squash.  I'd get the cranberry pancakes - cranberries in the pancakes, topped with chopped cranberries, and floating in cranberry maple syrup.

Once at the Pancake Man my sister ordered lobster, perhaps thinking it would be like "Troy" lobster, white meat in a butter sauce.  She was cautioned by the waiter and my father that this was probably going to be the full monty.  She didn't think so.

Of course, she got this:



Just one, but you get it.  Here was this crustacean, recently scalded to death in a pot of water, and now sitting in front of my sister.  The lobster had tell tale eyes, accusing my sister of causing his demise.

My sister started crying.  The waiter and then the manager came over, since people were starting to look. 
My father tried to help by reaching across the table, and, after a minor scuffle, ripped the lobster's left claw off the recently deceased and returned it to his plate, and, using the hammer given to all customers reek mayhem on their meal. Claw destroyed, my father dunk the meat into melted butter, and gobbled it down.


"See?", he said, "easy as pie.  Dig in, girl."

His reach for the other claw was halted by my sister raising her fork in a legitimate threatening manners, tines at the ready.
By this time, my sister was being comforted by her new husband who I am sure was reconsidering his options.  He had been a Marine, and had come close to such havoc in Vietnam.  He glared at his father in law.  My mother urged my father to sit down and behave.  I was just enjoying my cranberry pancakes.  None of this would have happened if everyone had ordered cranberry pancakes.  The pancakes don't have eyes.
By this time, the waiter had left and the manager offered my sister a complimentary anything.  While she thought about it, my father swooped in past her fork, and grabbed the back of the lobster.  His ingenious infiltration confused my sister, and my father wolfed down more of the succulent meat.
"Don't eat the green thing," he said, "that'll kill you. Saw it happen in the Navy. You?"
My brother-in-law saw that he was included in the conversation. "Never had any lobster in Khe Sanh, Lou."
It was agreed we would not have to pay for the lobster, and everyone could have free dessert.
My siser calmed down and finished a nice salad.  If there were any Pancake Man restaraunts left, I'd still say go with the cranberry pancakes.  Just the name, people. Pancake. Not two by two steak man or scalded to death lobster man. Pancakes.
By 1976, my father was ill, and we all sort of figured that this might be the last trip to the Cape.  If you followed these blogs, you're aware that my father had developed the same auto-immune disease as I have now.  In '76, we were puzzled about it and so were the doctors, but it was given as hardening of the arteries, which is a symptom, and not a conclusion.  Also, I could see my dog fading, slower, not playing catch, or not remembering why she was, but she would break curfew and dash across the rug to sit with me.  My mother got the hint, and nothing more was said, until I asked to bring the dog with us. No. Can I stay home with her? No.  She needed me to help with my father, and did not need one child a couple hundred miles away who could not drive.  My neighbor always took good care of the dog. And promised to this time, as well.
So we went through the motions, and got to Cape Cod, though my heart was breaking.  My father had, on every single vacation, started his morning by driving to the local store for the paper, and then the bakery for some yummies.  Then he'd sit in the main kitchen chair, read the paper, and eat his Bakin' and Akin's (Bacon and Eggs).  In '76, we found that these trips, usually no longer than fifteen minutes in good weather had stretched out to one hour.  He would drive by the house, sometimes twice and we would wave at him as he drove by.  We made signs that said "Lou, you live here!" but if he saw it, he would toot the horn and drive on by, no doubt thinking that someone was missing Lou.  We laughed about it, but the terror index went to yellow.

And then this.  On our last night at the Cape for 1976, we drove to the Dennisport beach parking area.  He pulled in to a spot and most of us got out, my father staying behind. We stood and watched the waves, quietly noting that this would be the last trip.  My sister and I walked down to the water, our feet making the classic flip flop sound that flip flops make.  Even the walk from the parking lot, down the stairs to the sand, and out to the water made everyone seem small and weak, looking up at them, them down at us.  My father tooted the Matador's horn and we went back, took a final look at the sea,then at the huge hotel complex next to the public beach where all our kites went to die. Not closure, more like not having enough of your favorite food to give to everyone, so some folks take less or none at all, and you can pretend you had enough.

We got in the Matador and my father started the car, and then shoved in gear. Unfortunately, the gear was not reverse, but Drive.  We accelerated toward the edge and the twenty foot drop to the beach.  Group shout! My father laughed it off. Sorry! We got back to the camp, my sister's family left, and the following morning we went home, my mother doing all the driving. My father made minor protests, but fell asleep in the car.

My dog was not in the window when we got home.  She was sitting in the cool of the cellar.  She thumped her tail when she saw me, and died two days later. The beginning of that roaring fury within me caught a bipolar wind in my brain, and the desolation began.

My father came home, announced that he had been fired. He popped a beer, sat at the kitchen table, and wept.  My mother lit another cigarette, ignored us and watched Johnny Carson. Her anger smoldered and then festered.
And Hell followed them.
In 1986, my wife Jackie went to Cape Cod for a short getaway.  It had been ten years since the previous sojourn, so I played host, regaling Jackie with the stories and indicating as we drove where this was and that was.  She had been to the Cape as a youngster once with her family, and had no frame of reference.  All I could show her was what was NOT there, or had taken ten more years of abuse. We went to Plymouth but tired of the same old, and were glad of having Jackie's sister's family with us to share the time.  Three weeks after we came back from Plymouth, we received a phone call from Jackie's sister.  Her husband had died.

And Hell wasn't through with us. We had another 15 years.  But the Cape was a place we talked about in our (or my) Bucket List, and may stop in once more.  Even if all I can see are ghosts, and my father driving his '74 Matador by us as we stand there in the street, the left turn signal perpetually warning in that red alert mode.

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