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A Whole Month’s Vacation

June 14, 2010
EDITOR’S PICK
JULY 26, 2010 6:57AM

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     My father announced,  “We’re taking a whole month’s vacation!” It was the summer of 1960, the year he won his Guggenheim grant. With the money he got we could afford to rent a cabin on Mount Desert Island for August. He saw the promise of a very well-deserved rest: for ten years he’d been working fulltime as an editor and writing by night and through the weekends. In that time he’d published four books and numerous magazine articles. He was beat.

I caught his excitement. At age 10 a month seemed forever, a forever soon to be filled with unimaginable wonders. Not the least of which was time spent with my father. Not the harried, exhausted guy he was at home, but the one I remembered from previous summers, who smiled as he enjoyed swimming, fishing and playing miniature golf.

First we had to get there.

My parents in the front seat, lips tight, were sitting rigid as mannequins, and my sister and I in the back seat, unnaturally still for kids, trying to make ourselves as small as possible. The silence in the car hummed with the electricity of a coming storm.  It came on route 128, a road that felt like it went on forever.

Apparently it did. He thundered, “For crying out loud!” staring out incredulously at the signs, “Waltham? We passed that before.”  We had just gone all the way around Boston, and were going to do it again if he didn’t find the right exit. The silence broken, my mother chimed in, ever helpful, “Oh, how could you!” I panicked at a crazy vision of hell, clear as a movie –an eternity of whizzing around Boston, getting smaller and smaller in the back seat as my parents shouted themselves hoarse up front.

My father finally found the right exit – never mind that the five minutes it would have taken to get off the highway and consult a map had cost us an hour’s driving. My parents found traveling so stressful that they believed stopping for anything more than gasoline only prolonged the agony.

So we ate as we drove, beginning with my mother passing my father a peace offering of a plastic cup of coffee from the thermos. He made a little sound, which I suppose was “Thanks.” My mother passed sandwiches to the back. I somehow forced mine down into my stomach, where it lay like a dead toad for the rest of the trip. My sister, wiser, promptly threw hers up on the seat between us where it sat for the rest of the journey.

When we finally got to Maine, my father painted “Manchesters” on a board and hung it under the sign for our little cabin. That he would do such a rare physical thing right off the bat told me our “whole month” was about to deliver on its promise. I saw another good sign when my father, that old Marine, handed me an American flag and pointed solemnly at the funky flagpole in our yard, saying, “Do you want to raise it? You know you have to lower it every night.” “Yes, of course!” I was still a good American boy, still had a crew cut and a smart salute.

We climbed a pink granite mountain with a funny name, “The Bubbles.” We gaped at the sea pounding into Thunder Hole. We scrambled down to Anemone Cave. It was my first cave, the first of many.  It was small enough that most of it was lit by the sun.  But up a ledge in back I glimpsed a black hole. I frantically scrambled up to find where it went. Nowhere, it turned out. I felt an unfamiliar disappointment. It was the end of this cave but the beginning of a lifelong passion for the underground, for finding what lies hidden around the corner in the dark.

After a few days of doing stuff with my father I discovered that the promise of a wired nine-year-old and that of a father recuperating from years of nonstop work were very different things. He’d had enough adventure and disappeared into the gloom of the cabin. I stayed outside alone, knowing nothing would happen inside.

I went and sat in the tent he’d put up for me the first day, but soon left, because inside was like an oven. I chased grasshoppers up and down the dusty driveway – sneaking up behind them, watching them flutter off in a little cloud of dust, then alight and fold up still as though I couldn’t see them. But I could, and chased them again, up and down that long driveway, day after day. The excitement wore off fast.

It started raining. My father took me to the library in Bar Harbor. He pointed to a book, a smile in his voice, “The Hardy Boys. I read them all whenwas a boy. Bet you’ll like them too.” I did, though I had to ask him about some tough words like “reconnoiter.” It poured down rain everyday for the rest of the vacation. I found myself lounging on my bed, doing the same thing as my parents: reading. And I’d found my adventure. To my luck they had a mess of Hardy Boys at the library. By the end of the month I’d gotten through all of them. Driving home from the library with a stack of them on my lap, my promise and my dad’s had become the same.

With its leaky roof, our cabin was like all the shacks we rented on vacation.  At home this would have evoked my father’s exasperation, if not rage. But he was so relaxed after his days of vacation that he made a joke of it, chortling as he set every pan in the kitchen under some leak.  Lying there reading my book, the syncopated background music of those drops in the pans, each plinking its own note, I wished the rain would never end, nor this series of Hardy Boy books, that this month could last forever.

Of course the rain stopped, the month was over and I finished all the Hardy Boys books. We had a few more summer vacations, mixed as always, but with nice moments. Then my father got famous and everything changed.

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Comments

Oh, what a great story, told so well. I’m dying to know who your father was, but it is more important to get to know who you are.
How kind! And perceptive. Coming from the family of the famous in our celebrity-crazed culture I’ve long feared that some people don’t see me an an individual but only as my father’s son.

That sounds like the best vacation EVER. When I was a kid, the idea of spending days reading was my idea of heaven. To have a stack of Hardy Boys books would have been double the fun. In fact, I loved them so much that I made it my mission to collect the full set of vintage (ending in the 50s) editions.

(Note: I have a full collection of Nancy Drew as well. Did you know that in the early 30s, when the series started, she carried a revolver? Cool.)

Who your father was is meaningless. Who YOU are is the important thing. I know what it’s like to be “****’s” kid. Moving a gazillion miles away was the only way I could manage to escape that. It was that easy for me. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.

Ah, very perceptive…and that last line “then my father got famous and everything changed” is a killer…R
You’re right I did indeed like this. Very much. Felt the car ride and the cabin and the “the syncopated background music of those drops in the pans, each plinking its own note.” Really exquisite.
Thank you all. Aunt Messy – now in these enlightened times I can finally admit that I also enjoyed Nancy Drew. And that my mother taught me to knit (I hid my knitting deep under my bed in case the other guys found out.) Nikki – a shameless experiment with “foreshadowing.”
Scarlett – had to work music in there, even before I played guitar. Only instrument in our house was my dad’s grody old harmonica.
I spent many of my summers on a little island, Isle Haute, right near Mount Dessert. You do need to have a long vacation since it takes so damn long to get there. What fun. I remember those old libraries.
Wonderful. Family, Mount Desert Island, lots of time. I imagine you’ll reveal dad’s identity in time?

Hoop – How different life might have been back then with GPS! Or given some parents, maybe not at all. They’d just find something else to hassle about.

Snarky -I spent other summers with friends on their little Island off Deer Isle. We saw great Isle Haut in the distance and planned to take our little put-put there. Good thing we didn’t – we would have drowned. Still curious about what it’s like there.

That’s one sweet vacation . . . I love that you’ve preserved the memory in this way – and shared it with us – although, I am now jealousing a little . . . wonderful read!
I loved this story, LM, and share everyone else’s curiosity about your father’s identity. The story reminded me of one my husband tells, how during the depression his father’s company laid everyone off for a month, and his father loaded everyone into the car and took them to Florida. He said rather than mope around feeling sorry for themselves they ought to make it a vacation. Your month with the Hardy Boys sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Thanks for taking us on your vacation! What fun those were in the 1960’s with a car full of children, no air conditioning in the car, eating on the road…glad they are but memories 🙂
I love it when the gap between expectation and reality, despite a detour here and there, shrinks and they occupy the same point. And I love it when books and reading become shared pleasures. I read all the Hardy Boys books, along with the Chip Hilton, Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew books as well. After I’d left home, my mom casually mentioned the books to a neighbor and told her her son was welcome to borrow them. Word got around. For as long as my parents lived there, kids in the neighborhood came to the door asking my mom or dad if they could borrow them. My childhood home became a library. I took a great deal of pleasure in that. Thank you for this interesting post, and for the memory it conjured.
Such a good story._r
Thank you all! Kathy, et al – I’m not trying to make my father’s identity a mystery. Maybe I’m shy about flaunting my celebrity connection. It’s here in the link in the first line:
http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2010/06/04/building_my_father_s_c…Or go to Wikipedia and type in “William Manchester.”

I loved the pacing and details in this piece. Just lovely writing.
I really enjoyed this. Time with family is so important, times like these is what is remembered. You captured the relief of stress, the challenge of accommodation, the library and subsequent book adventure. I am really happy you had this time and that you shared it all with us. R
Solid and enjoyable read…though I still don’t know what reconnoiter means!

“Lying there reading my book, the syncopated background music of those drops in the pans, each plinking its own note, I wished the rain would never end, nor this series of Hardy Boy books, that this month could last forever.”

I loved the Hardy Boys too. You conjured up all the tension and release into a sweet life chapter. (r)

I always loved Nancy Drew best.

Those Hardy boys – they were just so… White!

Maine. Sigh. I’m headed for Deer Isle in 5-4-3-2-1-days, to listen to loons and scrape my knees on the granite rocks and make armloads of flax paper. BTW, that exit you wanted was for I95N 🙂
I was a Nancy Drew fan. Loved the vacation. R.
Wow, LM. What a great memory. You sure can string the words together to tell the story, too. Great writing, so uncluttered and clean. Love it.
Wow, LM. What a great memory. You sure can string the words together to tell the story, too. Great writing, so uncluttered and clean. Love it.
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