Growing up in New Jersey, family vacations were always something of an adventure. Most years we would visit relatives in Ohio and/or Wisconsin. Back then the Interstate system was nearly as wide spread as it is now. Back then it was the Garden State Parkway to the New Jersey Turnpike and then the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Nearly 400 miles of twisty four lane, through seven tunnels under the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains.
It seemed like there was always construction. And tolls. Lots of tolls. After the turnpike it state routes through the hills of West Virginia into Ohio. Mom and Dad up front and us three kids and a dog in the back. No air conditioning, no seat belts, AM radio. Someone always got sick once we got off the turnpike. But there were plenty of Howard Johnson restaurants along the way.
Every few years we would venture to someplace different. My dad had a knack for finding little out of the way places that usually weren’t exactly would the brochure had promised. Often my grandmother and Aunt Margaret would come along. We did the Pocono Mountains a couple of times.
In the summer of 1969 we were on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay. When the tide was out it seemed like we walked for a mile into the bay and the water was only up to our shins. We saw Neil Armstrong take one small step that week. And it rained most of our stay.
One summer we rented a little cottage on Lake Hopatcong, NJ. The largest freshwater body in the state. Our landlady was Beatrice Brady. I’m not sure why, but for some reason my grandmother didn’t take to Beatrice. Several months after that vacation my father sent Grandma a letter, purportedly from Beatrice. He wrote, as Beatrice, how much she’d enjoyed getting to know us, especially Grandma, and that she hoped we’d be coming back soon.
My grandmother was moved, perhaps, she thought, she’d misjudged Miss Brady. That is until my father called her and asked, “Hey Mom, you ever hear anything from Beatrice Brady?” “Oh you Dickens!” she responded.
Then there was that summer when my dad found an old farmhouse for rent in New Hope, PA. I still don’t know how or where he stumbled onto that place. I do remember the drive. Once we got into town Dad started honking and waving at people on the street. “What are you doing?” we all asked. “Just having a little fun, we’re never going to see any of those people again,” he said.
The farmhouse was advertised with a “swimmin’ hole” on the property that turned out to be an old algae covered cow pond. The house was big and musty. There was one room in the middle of the downstairs that was locked. Inside that room was a telephone that rang all through the day and night. I don’t remember that there was an awful lot to do in New Hope. Though I did manage to perfect my knuckleball in the field out behind that old farmhouse that summer.
Now that my brother and sister and I have our own families we still, on those rare occasions that we’re all together, reminisce about those experiences. The best part of those trips wasn’t so much where we went or what we did, but who we were with and the memories we made and still share.
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