Reliving the relaxing ritual of summer vacation

Tradition: The best part of summer is reconnecting with family and visiting familiar, well-loved places.

July 24, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

THE EVENTS OF the past week off Martha's Vineyard have left me sobered. The horror of these tragic deaths was only compounded as it played out against the backdrop of a summertime family event.

More than traditional family gatherings at Christmas or Thanksgiving, the July or August assembly is a special joy, the time when all the relatives arrive, camp out in tight quarters and unwind. It is a time when family confidences are divulged; when good news and bad are quietly traded; when subtle observations of family relationships can be noted. There can be a good fight or two, but that's part of the landscape too.

There is no roast turkey to worry about; no hurried exchange of gifts. It's a slow time for people and chatter in a relaxed and lazy setting. And, along the way, it's a time for long walks on the beach or morning coffee sessions that extend well into lunchtime.

In these parts, the summer ritual always seems to involve the water. Three of my siblings have places not far from the Atlantic. Any weekend that I am not there brings me a handful of telephone calls retelling just what I missed.

A few weeks ago I realized that I was overdue for trip to Ocean View, Del., to catch up on how my sister, brother-in-law and her brood of three were doing. Soon word was up and down the family that Uncle Jacques was packing his bags.

A key part of these family rituals is their repetition value.

You return to the same place you've been before. Woe to any rental agent who can't deliver the same apartment, cottage or room as the one from summer 1998 or 1988 or 1978. We are talking durable repetition here. The boardwalk food, the pizza, the caramel popcorn, the soft-serve ice cream must taste the way it did the year before -- and all the years preceding as well.

So too the rides at the amusement parks. There is something so reassuring about the same merry-go-round, boat ride or spinning fire engine. This has nothing to do with a Walt Disney-produced extravaganza. It has everything to do with initiating the newest members of the family to the self-same ride you so hesitantly approached as a child.

I imagine even the people who like vacation variety -- and all sorts of different travel -- probably harbor a secret longing to return a place each year when they can reconnect.

I'm a big believer in this reconnecting ritual, the return to the place where the sun still shines as it did 40 years ago. I like a place where the telephone is more than often quiet, where when it does ring, the voice on the line is inviting you to a dinner with the old crowd.

I like to go to the same restaurants where, when I look around the room, I can see the tables where I sat when I was too young to read the menu.

Some of this vacationing back in time isn't always possible. And if you are not prepared for the floods of emotion it can unleash, you're better served to pick another destination. But when all you're back home and the bags are being unpacked, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction that these reconnection sessions offer.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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