Thursday, August 21, 2008

"What I did on my summer vacation"

Rye, NY

Ah, how those of us of a certain age would wince when confronted by that infernal perennial composition each fall. However, half a century removed from grade school, I find myself dwelling on that very subject.

Thanks to a generous, if unpaid, summer leave from my day job (due to a lethargic economy) I'm enjoying a longer than usual respite from my "real life" in Sarasota, Florida. With less than 2 weeks left I savor every nanosecond. As I tap these keys, I sit propped up on a heavenly king-sized bed, a briny breeze wafting in from the Long Island Sound. The posh setting courtesy of the dearest of friends.

The sights and smells of this place transport me back to the Catskill summers of my childhood and a brief college career at Bard. I relish the contrast between the mountains and the former potato fields of my suburban tract Long Island home. When people talk about "the smell of fresh mowed grass," this is what they mean... a lushness so intense I walk about without sunglasses, unheard of. During early morning walks with Angel, my friend's 11-year-old Lab, the silence penetrates. I hear myself think.

I recall a youthful vision. THIS--where the hills meet the water, where Manhattan is but 45 minutes away, this is where I would live, this is where I belong. Life washes my body away, but bits and pieces of my soul remain. The recognition is sweet. This is a place my childhood lives, my salad days.

The meat of my life lives at the Jersey Shore. It's where I marry, divorce, raise a family, finish college, work as a journalist, fall in love, write a book. It is my adulthood. I fall in love with the Jersey Shore slowly, maturely. As the frantic summer melts into fall, I walk the nearly deserted boardwalk, bracing against the coming chill and breathe the unique saltiness of the Atlantic.

Fortunately for me, it's also where my dearest friends still live, so I am treated to a shore vacation as well. My closest friend opens her Red Bank home to me each year. As we visit, I renew my affair with the boards and the eternal surf. The unique aromas of the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk evoke specific images from decades lived within its reach.

I can't help but giggle with the fuss made this year about "staycations," as if high gas prices are the mother of this invention. Not to sound like Al Gore, but many many summers ago, we took them every year. Just ask my kids.

For too much of their growing years, we live a hand-to-mouth existence. (A story for another time.) Desperate for some way to amuse them, I "invent" a vacation at home. It would be a week when we would be "Bennies," the Jersey Shore term for tourists. Borrowing from Zen, we use "beginners mind," fresh eyes. We eat all meals out, troll the boards for junk food, attack the rides...etc. Our home is our hostel. Rules for TV, curfews and the like are suspended. It's the best I can do. There are some perks to living in a resort town after all.

The first time we are to take a "real" vacation, driving (where else) to my aunt's home in the Catskills, I lose my glasses in the surf and the kids are scared the replacement cost might sour the deal. We do go. I have proof. Photos taken when the motor of my aging Datsun gives its all and dies on the way up a "real" mountain. My mom arrives and rescues our "real" vacation.

And that's what I did on my summer vacation. 'Nuf said.

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