Some destinations become traditions Return: Certain places manage to draw the same families year after year, and the appeal has nothing to do with the accommodations.

TAKING THE KIDS

September 15, 1996|By EILEEN OGINTZ | EILEEN OGINTZ,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Even before they'd driven out the Alden Camps gate in Oakland, Maine, the Richard family was estimating the time until they could return to their designated spot of vacation heaven.

"Only 50 weeks to go," sighed Pat Richard, a pediatric nurse who has made this small rustic fishing resort in central Maine a constant in her life. Not even a divorce or remarriage kept Richard away: She hasn't missed a summer in 26 years. Her 16-year-old daughter, Megan, has celebrated every birthday here.

"She can't wait until she's old enough to be a waitress in the dining room," says her mother.

Certainly it's not the accommodations that draw the Richard family back summer after summer. The log cabins are small, haphazardly furnished with sagging beds and scratched bureaus. Bathrooms are closet-sized. There are no organized activities, phones, TVs or radios. Frequently, the weather is less than perfect. When the sun shines, you have to bring your own beach chair down to the minuscule beach.

"You either love it or you hate it," concedes Alice Pajor, a health-care administrator who has been a regular for 27 years.

There have been a few changes since Alden Camps opened for business in 1911 on the shore of East Lake. It was one of the early no-frills sporting "camps" that catered to city fishermen anxious to escape their urban lives.

Few amenities

There were no indoor bathrooms then, and guests bathed with lake water. There wasn't electricity: The dining room was lighted by kerosene chandeliers.

"I remember begging for chips of ice when the cook would go out to the huge block at the barn," recalls Jean Hertzler. Hertzler is in her late 70s and has been a guest at Alden Camps since she was 5, long before refrigerators but not before Friday-night lobster-and-clam bakes, a tradition that continues today.

"People used to come for a month or the whole summer," she said. Her 19-year-old grandson, Chris, must make do with two weeks. He loves the place so much he's even written a poem about it. "Being here is the closest I can think of to perfection," he explains.

Other vacation spots, typically not fancy, inspire equally strong feelings. Thousands of Northern Californians wouldn't consider celebrating Easter anywhere but at Yosemite National Park, for example. So many families return to the same Arizona dude ranch at Thanksgiving, small Colorado ski area at Christmas, or New Hampshire farm in summer that it's tough for a newcomer to get a reservation.

Others wouldn't skip a visit back home. "I was surrounded by love," explained a teacher I know who just returned from a long visit to Nebraska.

In camp groups and on fishing docks, over brown-bag lunches in ski lodges and on horseback in the desert, I've watched parents and grandparents pass their family's vacation tradition onto the next generation. It may be as simple as teaching a child to bait a fish hook, appreciate a sunset or share a good story.

George and Vesta Putnam, who took over Alden Camps from an riences more meaningful. That's why the couple, now in their 80s, is slow to make any changes.

"The biggest innovation in the last five years was a push-button pay phone in the lodge," says their son-in-law, Colorado executive John Hinebauch. Hinebauch courted his wife while working as a cabin boy at the Camps in the late '50s and is now bTC helping to plan his daughter's wedding here.

Meals are still served three times a day in the big dining room, except for the weekly lobster bake in the barn, complete with beer keg, shuffleboard and dancing.

In an era when families hope vacations will strengthen their ties, there's plenty of time at a place like this to read, to think, to talk to friends -- and the kids. "Coming here replenishes my soul," says Pat Richard.

"It's reassuring to know you can count on it to be there for you when the world is always changing so much," Alice Pajor explains.

Feeling good guaranteed

I was jealous listening to their earnest talk. Despite all my travels, I don't have a place that I know is guaranteed to make me feel good the moment I arrive. Do you? Write or e-mail me, explaining why a certain spot draws you and your family back year after year. I'll use some of your stories in a future column.

What should a place offer to inspire such loyalty? Mothers tell me terrific meals they don't have to cook are a must. Fathers want plenty of sports options. Kids want other kids, preferably ones they know.

"We can just pick up where we left off the year before," says Chris Hertzler. That means hanging out on the dock, listening to music, playing Ping-Pong and soccer, picnicking and fishing in their special places. Along the way, they've been able to share plenty of dreams and fears. "We don't have anything to do but get to know each other better."

:. In my book, that's what vacations are for.

Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053, or e-mail to eogintzol.com.

If you go back ...

Here's a short list of vacation spots that draw repeat visitors:

Ahwanee Hotel, Yosemite National Park, Calif.; (209) 252-4848

Alden Camps, Oakland, Maine; (207) 465-7703

Ludlow's Island Lodge, Lake Vermillion, Minn.; (218) 666-5407

Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies, Winter Park, Colo.; (970) 726-4628

Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Ariz.; (602) 296-6275

The Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, N.H.; (603) 242-6495

Hotel Club Akumal Caribe, near Cancun, Mexico; (800) 351-1622

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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