It was, all in all, a spontaneous kind of trip. We’ve had no real getaways scheduled for this summer–really we have made days here and there out of book events, which has served the purpose nearly enough but not quite. We had plans to go down to a campground that Joey and the girls discovered last year. I was teaching kid’s cooking camp when they went, and I had to stay behind. But this year, they wanted to show me the spot. So we set aside a night that has rested on the calendar all summer, ready to be changed, removed, or cancelled–but holding firm with hope. One night.
Sometime in the last few weeks, we started to change the plan. Miraculously, the few days around that one solitary day started emptying out on the calendar. One night turned into three (which really feels like a week!), and we filled the car with everything we could think of, finally squeezing in ourselves and setting off into the day. We had been unable to secure a reservation, and the only promise we had was from a conversation Joey had with a teenager at the campground who said we were “welcome to show up and give it a shot.” And so we did.
There is this little piece of Massachusetts that nestles into Rhode Island. Go there and you will find a highway that leads out to the sea, and a park right there at the end. People come with their big RVs, and they rent a spot by the beach for a few weeks. Their children have nothing to do but look for rocks, so they bring their bikes and they ride around in circles. The teenagers have impassioned late-night conversations outside the bathrooms. The younger kids set up lemonade stands where they mix pitchers of Country Time and throw in a soft supermarket chocolate chip cookie if you’re lucky. And there, just there beyond the line of RVs that must have called back in January to reserve those spots right on the ocean, is the beach, a large expanse of rocks that leads into a soft sandy bottom extending so far that you can walk deep into the ocean and still only be wet to your waist. The water is warm, and the waves are just the right height for jumping. In New England, this is a triumph.
We were one of the few lone tents amongst decked-out RVs–each with awnings and flags and extravagant outdoor kitchens. I have, at a few times in my life, found myself in these places–campgrounds or other places where families or retired couples park their RVs to sit in beach chairs and watch the world go by for a while. At each of these moments, I’ve been struck by the kindness of my neighbors and the general community that seems to set up without any effort, taking in anyone who shows up on a given day, waving goodbye as you pack up the car and head home, expressing the illogical but so often true in this small world sentiment that they will see you again, someday.
The accomplishments of the trip were small but substantial. Hours and hours in the calm ocean inspired one sister to teach the other to swim. We had a dinner to celebrate said swimming victory at Evelyn’s Drive-In in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Our friend Alice drove from Providence that night, and we all ate the best fish and chips I have ever had (and I do not say that lightly) and grapenut pudding, which is the Rhode Island specialty that I imagine was discovered by letting their grapenuts sit for too long and then baking them in the oven. Every state needs a specialty, and before you judge, I’ve got to tell you that this is a good one. Earlier that day, we had driven over the bridge to Jamestown, Rhode Island, continuing on to the very tip of the island until we hit my favorite lighthouse. I’d been there maybe eleven or twelve years ago with a boyfriend and I’d instantly adopted the place as part of me–the rocks I return to in my mind, the whitewashed lighthouse attached to a perfect house at the end of the earth. The lighthouse itself has stayed distinct, almost as if I knew the unique tap-tap of its beams enough to know how to find it again.
I told the girls about the summer when I had found the park with another love of mine, before they or even Joey and I together had even existed. The thought of “before daddy” makes the girls giggle, but also they think of alternate realities where they are other people with different features, and there always seems to be a relief on all of our parts as to how this all worked out. There is this daddy, and this mommy, and they are who they are with certain noses and ears and ways of looking at the world. These conversations always lead to questions about how they will find the one they should be with, or how they will know that they are on the right track in life or where they should be. For now, I just say that things always work out as they should. They take my answer and leave it be, thankful, I think.
We are not vacationers. We have no cottage, no island we go to on Winter Break. We find our way to the places we love, and we do our best to go back when we can. But a few years ago I did a radio interview as part of a story on how to eat well on little money, and, in the heat of impassioned speech, I gave a list of all the things we didn’t need. Someone came to me at the Farmers’ Market that week and said that he enjoyed the story, but he disagreed with me on one point alone.
“We all need vacations,” he told me.
I know that Rosie needs the ocean. That Joey needs a long drive in the car. That sometimes I need to walk away from the house and all that needs to be done. (I also, as it turns out, need Evelyn’s Drive-in.) And Sadie needs to know that her family is all together and that ice cream is somewhere in her future. I guess that all adds up to vacation, and he was right–we need it.
I’m working through the laundry now, shaking the sand out of it all. There are about ten different fruits and vegetables on the counter begging to go into jars, and the garden and the house (all a bit neglected) seem very happy to see us. I’ll be back with recipes this week, with jam and zucchini and pie and all those August things. Soon, soon.