Ferry from Manhattan to Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island
It has long been a tradition in our family to take a retro-style, load the kids up in the car, family road trip back east to visit relatives and friends each summer. Most years we have only driven as far as the Outer Banks of North Carolina-a series of barrier islands off the coast, once rustic and sleepy and undiscovered; now home to near total build-up of large upscale (pools, hot tubs, and other amenities) beach homes that rent by the week, outlet shopping malls, gourmet grocery stores that stock the New York Times and Washington Post, pirate-themed restaurants, putt-putt golf courses with giant fiberglass dinosaurs that loom out menacingly over the roadway, and several hundred outposts of a local chain named "Wings", each located about 2 blocks from the previous one, which sells cheap swim suits, surfboards, sand toys, sun tan lotion, beach towels, and 10,000 cheap tchotchkies (beaded necklaces? rubber sharks ? bamboo wind chimes? sunglasses ? rubber tubing sling shots? small scale fire crackers?) all made in China.
We have made this trek, in good years and bad - even in 2008 when gas was $4.00 and up per gallon. I complain about it a lot - mostly the fact that this so called "vacation", during some lean years the only one I got, is ALWAYS accompanied by : a) my in-laws, and b) my having to be the chef for anywhere from 4-12 people. As my therapist says, "any vacation that involves mothers-in-law and cooking is not really a VACATION". I know, however, that in spite of my complaining, this is a rather luxurious week at the beach that few people rarely get to experience, my kids really do need to see their relatives at least once a year, and (as my therapist also said) I need to adjust how I think of it : think of it as a family reunion, as a gift to my children of sand and sea and carefree times, happy memories.......and demand another vacation that is truly a relaxing experience for me ! Which I do.....
This year, just to put some variety and spice into our lives, we decided to extend our trip, swing north after our week in North Carolina was over, and take the kids to Washington DC and New York City. (GFT used to live in northern VA, across the river from Wash DC, in Alexandria, and son #2 was born there. My own children have been to the Washington area and dragged through the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum so many times, they could scream ! However, visiting grand parents is an important duty, and one that is not likely to end, any time soon.) In recent years, we have brought various friends of my kids with us on this trip, so it was time to expose some of these neighborhood teens to the wonders and culture of the east coast.
Tom, Rick and Danny go to White Castle.....where is Will, you ask ? Good question....
Our trip this year got off to a rocky start. The night before we were set to leave, as we were packing and loading up the car, my ex-husband called and said that his father, son # 1's grand father, was near death, and could son #1 fly out to participate in the soon-to-be funeral ... right now ? I informed ex husband that we were, the very next day, embarking on a 3 week road trip from Texas to New York, but that we would try to put son #1 onto a plane at some juncture. The next day, as we were driving from DFW area to Memphis, ex-husband called again to say that his father had been moved into hospice, was near death, and his dying wish was to " see all his grand children one last time", so could son #1 get on a plane ASAP and come see him before he died ? We pulled into Nashville around midnight that night ( after stopping to eat at Neeley's BBQ in Memphis), hubster bought son#1 a plane ticket to Colorado Springs, ( through Dallas - which was not easy, or cheap), and at 6 am the next morning, we put son #1 onto a plane while the rest of us continued driving east. Which is why I've got a few photos in this album that do not have son #1 in them, at all .
While the rest of our merry band continued our drive east ( along with the requisite stops for great meals and cheezy tourist attractions along the way), son #1 flew out to Colorado Springs, met his father and half sister who were flying in from Houston, his aunt and her kids flying in from LA, was picked up at the airport by his uncle - and all went to the hospice to visit his dying grandfather. They visited with him some, then went back to the uncle's house ( so the uncle, ex husband's older brother, once a computer programmer now a professional chef, could cook up the grandfather's favorite meal, as a sort of "last meal" offering to the dying man.) Late that night they were driving back to the hospice to bring this meal to the grandfather, when they received word that he had died. So son # 1 made had it there, just in time. All the family members - this being a Greek American family, somewhat similar to the one in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", with 200 people visiting, sleeping on the floors and the couches, and someone roasting a lamb on a spit in the back yard - went back to the uncle's house, and began ( pardon my mixed cultural references here, there really is no better way to explain all this) began sitting shiva for the old man. Son #1 , having done his duty to his grandfather and fulfilled the old man's dying wish, got back on a plane and joined our group, still travelling eastward, in Raleigh-Durham North Carolina.*
The rest of our week at the beach was rather anti-climatic. This year, we rented a larger house, and had fewer people in attendance, than in previous years, and people got along much better than we had before. More tv's, more bathrooms, plus 2 family rooms (plus an elevator for my m-in-law, who has mobility issues) as well as the requisite pool, hot tub and other amenities meant more room for folks to spread out, relax, not be all up in each other's business. My crazy militaristic right wing brother-in-law could watch Fox News all he wanted, while my pinko elitist culture junkie mother-in-law could watch PBS and CNN all day long as well....and never the twain shall meet. Each could happily shout at the tv as much as he or she wanted.....and the rest of us could find spots to be to avoid it all. It's a good thing.
If my attitude about my former father-in-law seems rather confusing, or even cold, please remember : he's an EX father-in-law. While I hold him no ill will, and like to remind folk that he was a WW2 vet and thus deserving of our respect.....one must remember, my divorce from his son was hellishly brutal, (read "When Harry Met Sally" Dec 2007 on this blog, for particulars) and while the intervening years may have faded the rancor somewhat, son #1 had only seen this grandfather twice in his life, and barely knew him. I felt that a dying man's last wish needs to be fulfilled, if at all possible, but did not want to take son #1's only vacation entirely away from him, by having him hang in Colorado around all week, waiting for the funeral. Son#1 had just completed the Texas Governor's School, and thus had spent most of his summer studying. As a child, he was somewhat uncertain about flying across the country by himself to spend days with a family basically unknown to him....and he really needed some vacation time where he could unwind and relax before school began.