My wife and I are planning a short getaway in the near future, and as we plan, we recall other vacations we were fortunate to experience. When our two girls were young, for example, we enjoyed long weekends in the Adirondack Mountains. Then, as the girls aged a bit, we visited Disney World, we experienced a long road trip to Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri, and we also visited different towns on Cape Cod. In recent years, too, we were truly blessed to travel overseas and enjoy a one-week cruise to Bermuda and a two-week cruise to Italy, Greece, and Turkey. All this travel stands in direct contrast to the summer vacations of my youth when we spent only one week away. Ironically, though, that one week away when I was eleven years old holds a deep and lasting place in my heart.
Why did we not go away regularly? Like most families in our Amsterdam, New York, neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s, we simply couldn’t afford it. Dad worked as a plumber-steamfitter, and Mom stayed home with my five sisters and me. We weren’t poor exactly, but we didn’t have extra funds for a week-long adventure either. Was I jealous of schoolmates who did go away for a week during the summer? No, not at all. In fact, I sometimes felt sorry for them because when they were away, they had to miss their Little League baseball games, games that were the highlight of my summer season.
Looking back, too, at that innocent time, I honestly don’t recall my father ever getting a vacation. If he didn’t go to work, he didn’t get paid, and if he didn’t get paid, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed my favorite lunchtime sandwiches: baloney or liverwurst with lots of yellow mustard.
Fortunately, we did experience one week away during the summer of 1962. By then, my dad had switched employers. Instead of working in town for a local contractor, he joined the local plumbers’ union, so he earned a slightly higher wage and better working conditions. In his new job, rather than having to crawl through wet household basements to make repairs, Dad was often sent to new commercial or government construction projects. Since most of those new projects occurred outside our small town, Dad had to travel farther each day to the job sites, and one of those assignments led us to our one and only family vacation.
During the summer of 1962, Dad was assigned to a special project connected to the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a good three hours away, up near the Canadian border. Obviously, he couldn’t commute daily, so he and a few buddies rented a place where they could stay during the week and return home on the weekends. That schedule placed an extra burden on Mom, of course, but since I was eleven and the second oldest, she was able to rely on me for . . . who am I kidding? She couldn’t rely on me for anything. Still, Mom understood the situation and just took care of us all as she always did. Have I mentioned that my mom and dad were truly amazing? Always.
So anyway, about halfway through that long, hot summer, Dad and Mom surprised us by announcing that we would all travel north one Sunday afternoon because Dad had rented a camp for us near his worksite, at a place called Chazy Lake.
No way! Seriously! Really! Wow! A vacation? A real vacation? Baseball games? What baseball games? We could not have been more excited.
The camp itself was much smaller than our house in Amsterdam, it felt a bit old and musty, and it didn’t even have a television, but we were right on the water with a big yard, lots of natural distractions, and we played outside most of the time. Dad, unfortunately, still had to go to work during the day, and since Mom was not a great swimmer, she did not allow us to go in the lake while Dad was working. Thus, the excitement built all day long until Dad returned for the evening, and we all went swimming together.
In addition to our evening swims, we cooked hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill outside, we all tried to catch fish — and failed miserably — and we actually listened to the radio, an activity we rarely shared at home. Somehow, too, during that magical week, we visited the former Olympic Center in Lake Placid, we ate pizza in the village of Saranac Lake, and we saw up close the giant walls of the nearby Clinton Correctional Facility, typically referred to as the Dannemora Prison.
Fortunately when we kids finally grew up and matured, Mom and Dad had a chance to vacation on their own. They flew to Costa Rica for a week, they visited Maine where they had honeymooned fifty years earlier, and they visited us often in our new homes. In addition, after they were retired and really free to travel, they took two extended road trips across the country, one out west to California and one down south to Louisiana and Texas.
Naturally, the current summer weather and the vacation planning stir up the memories from long ago. Looking back at our one and only family vacation from my youth, I remember not so much the swimming and the fishing and the sightseeing but more so the love that our parents demonstrated to us, a love that transcends that one special week and extends through the decades to the next generation and beyond.