Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘beach’

Sunday musings 1/14/18: On the Beach 2018

Sunday musings…

1) Anoesis. A state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive thought.

Just thought you should know that.

2) Utility whiskey. What you drink after you can no longer tell that you are drinking the good stuff.

YMMV.

3) Smoke. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” What do you do when the whole world is nothing but smoke?

4) Air-gapped. Not connected. As in a computer that is never, not even once, attached to the internet.

Like a book, or a notebook, with a plug.

5) Alarm. (Surely you knew this was coming) This weekend begins the Royal Hawaiian Eye Meeting, an annual gathering of eye surgeons that I have thus far managed to avoid attending every year of my career. Why, you ask? Meh. 6 time zones for 3 days of work is the best answer. If that doesn’t do it I’ll add that Mrs. bingo won’t join me for the trip, and I really dislike most travel without the company of Mrs. bingo.

As you may have heard there was a bit of excitement in Hawaii yesterday. Seems a rather fumble-fingered employee jabbed the “alert all” button when taking his turn at the helm of the Emergency Response Center and sent off a 1960′s style, death from the air is coming, curl up under your desk kids and kiss your ass goodbye nuclear attack warning. Funny (funnier?), the doof figured out what happened when he got a text on his own cellphone.

Note to Expedia: this guy needs his own “Wanna get away” commercial.

What was your reaction? Mrs. bingo is away visiting her ailing Mom so I was alone chez bingo to contemplate what I would have done (interestingly, I would have been alone in Hawaii as noted above for real). The good folks of Hawaii and their 10′s of thousands of weekend guests were handed the dubious privilege of contemplating, if for just 30 minutes or so, how they would spend the last couple of hours of their lives knowing that they were about to spend the last couple hours of their lives. Did this occur to you, too?

Yesterday also brought me a couple of articles in a similar vein. One, from the WSJ, was not quite so stark. It asked when you would take a pill that arrested the aging process. At what age would you decide that the balance of physical prowess and age-begotten wisdom was optimized? (N.B. this was going to be the main topic of “musings”…) I also stumbled across a review of a book or a movie or something in which 3 siblings are told as young children the precise date of their deaths. What followed was the decisions these young children made based on that knowledge. Gotta admit, I went right to that place when I heard about the Hawaiian modern air-raid siren.

T’was a time when this type of inquiry was a rather commonplace occurrence. You could do worse than reading Neville Shute’s novel or the Stanley Kramer movie “On the Beach” based on it to get a sense of what a nuclear fraught world felt like. Both the novel and the movie depict a world destroyed by nuclear war, and life in Australia as the end-of-life nuclear cloud approaches the continent. How and what normal people decide to do in the face of an unavoidable expiration date some weeks ahead is central to the story. Yesterday’s equivalent would have been some hours ahead it seems.

What would you have done? Would you have sought shelter, as suggested, and hoped to somehow miraculously escape incineration if you were at ground zero? (As an aside, can you even imagine the horror of taking part in the effort to get off the islands to escape the radiation? We’d learn what savages we actually are, I fear) Would you go all Sartre or Beckett and choose an earlier “departure” of your own making as did so many in “On the Beach”? If it were real, what do you think you would have done?

I surely know not what came before, as surely as none of us truly knows what, if anything, comes in the end. Questions that arise from the (usually) hypothetical “what if you knew when” scenarios lack the urgency to force an honest appraisal. It will be interesting for me to have a chance to chat with folks I know who are in Hawaii right now (a couple are close friends), but for now it was enough for me to have undergone this thought experiment for the umpteenth time and come to the same conclusion: I would have sought my people. Some how, in some way, with my last dwindling moments I would do whatever it took to be with my people.

It is for others to seek the greater societal and geopolitical meaning and impact of yesterday’s blunder.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Cape Week: In Memorium

The beach was chilly, the water a boiling mass of foam, yet the sand was smooth and calm.  Unaffected. Doubtless, it had seen this before. My eyes began to leak. It must have been the wind. Yes, that’s it. The wind. I stood there in silence, struggling to fix the image in my mind. I knelt down to kiss the sand of my beloved beach. With a shirtsleeve to stem the flow from my eyes I walked away from 25 years of family history and toward the beginning of a new story.

What does it take to bring together an entire family for 7 days under one roof, every year, for 25 consecutive years? Why even start in the first place? Once upon a time families were born, grew, and died in a single town or small group of neighboring towns. Getting together was a given. Holidays presented a challenge born of access: who would host whom for what occasion at what time and for how long? Your Mom or your spouse’s Mom for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever. A cousin’s graduation might be a life-or-death obligation, attendance mandatory. Proximity rendered this moot, but we moved away.

First borns both, Beth and I married first and had the first grandchildren. We hit every adulting stage before any of our siblings. This meant encountering in-law issues first as well. Where would we go and when? Sticky wicket, that. The solution, at least for the White family was the creation of a separate holiday totally removed from any established American tradition. We would all go to the beach together, just like we did as kids. Thus began “Cape Week”.

How do you get 4 young couples, all of which had multiple children to return time and again to the same place at the same time to do pretty much the same stuff each year for 25 years? It could be having a parent everyone was afraid of, or another no one wanted to disappoint. For sure having BOTH was a key component. Through every milestone each little family plowed through and found a way to make it to Cape Cod each year to spend every waking moment together in our little compound. Only serious illness kept anyone away.

Over the years change did eventually come in the way of summer jobs for the grandchildren, which led as such things do to real, live adult jobs with little vacation time. That and of course, another generation of in-laws for our children to now contend with. Whispers of change were on the winds these last couple of years, but still, almost everyone was there for almost the whole week each summer.

I know what you’re thinking. Somehow it must have been easy for us. There must have been some sort of massive bribe, or something. Nope. What it took was a ton of commitment and hard work by four (now not so) young couples to make Cape Week happen. One family came from California for several years, another from the Midwest. There were summer camps that were never attended, All-Star teams made but All-Star Games missed. The classic teen rebellions against family were quashed, all 10 cousins showing up many more years than not. Invitations to vacation alternatives were graciously turned down, and every “how come always your family” discussion always ended with some version of “we can do that, too, just some other week.”

Cape week itself took hard work and commitment. Four families, 10 kids, and two grandparents together for meals, beach games, TV at night, and forays en masse to the ice cream shop. It could be a little bit cramped, even with the addition of a second cottage in year 4. Those 10 cousins from homes scattered all over America have grown up to be friends who know an amazing amount about each other despite their age differences and lack of proximity. For instance, 10+ summers of having the “college talk” with their aunts and uncles is uniformly one of their WORST memories. Yet there they were as well, every summer in which there was no unavoidable conflict.

Until this year.

Why now? Why this, our 25th year, are we now closing the book on the last chapter of Cape Week? The easy answer is the loss of one of those grandparents, my Dad. It really doesn’t matter whether he was the one we were afraid of or the one we didn’t want to disappoint, I think it’s more a matter of needing both to make something like Cape Week a forgone conclusion. That one singular loss seems to have opened the door for each family to consider the value of Cape Week to their individual families.  To think the heretofore unthinkable: something is more important to our family unit than the annual assembly of the extended family.

Is that it then? Is it over, 25 years and out? It’s been an extraordinary run. Not a one of us knows a soul who’s even heard of a family that pulled off something like this. What is clearly over is Cape Week written in stone, and while that has always been inevitable if any of us ever really gave it any thought, it is quite sad nonetheless. We will continue to rent the main house, installing Gram for a week in the same chair at dinner, on the same spot on the beach. A calendar will say that it’s number 26, but it will be different. A new Cape Week, year number 1, invitations soon. Who will come?

If I close my eyes I can still see my beach. See it, as it has been these 25 years. With my eyes closed I see my Mom and Dad, young and vibrant, surrounded by babies and toddlers covered in sand and seaweed. There’s my brother and his wife, my sisters and their husbands, my darling Beth. We’re all together. My eyes have begun to leak again and it’s all a blur. There’s a breeze in my house; there must be a window open. Yes, that must be it, an open window has let in the wind.

The winds of change have finally come for Cape Week.

 

Cape Week

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the only constant is change; the only thing in life on which you can depend is that things will not always ever be the same. An important corollary to this is that all things, good or bad, will come to an end. So it appears to be in my little slice of the world. While it’s not quite clear exactly when, it is clear that a very important part of my adult life is near an end.

This is the weekend when Beth and I digest the latest iteration of the annual White Family Cape Cod vacation week. For 23 consecutive years all, or almost all, of my family has congregated in the same 2 cottages across the street from the ocean in the idyllic little town of West Dennis, MA. After that comes 12-14 hours of driving home, a rolling debriefing and decompression from a full-immersion experience into my family. For 8 years or so both vacation and the drive home have been fodder for my “Sunday musings”, some of my best. Although some aspects of the vacation were as immutable as Bill Murray waking up in that hotel room every day in Groundhog Day–a seeming violation of my “everything changes” dictum–each year has actually turned out to be a truly unique story told exactly once. For 23 years. It’s really been a remarkable streak when you think about it.

The genesis of this annual odyssey was my youngest sister’s wedding and the addition of a fourth set of in-laws to the family Holiday dynamic. Beth and I are both first borns. We were the first to marry and the first to bring members of the next generation into the family. We have always lived a mutually disagreeable distance from both families, in the backyard of neither, and no closer to either. Both families were equally unhappy with our zip code. Really a compliment, when you think about it.

As part of this it was clear right from the start that there would be no winning and losing when it came to family visits on the big 2 American Holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nope, it was gonna be all War of the Roses, just degrees of losing. My proposed solution? We would declare a summer White Family Holiday and we would all convene in one place for a week together. Thus began 23 years of “The Cape Week.” When we began my caboose, Randy, was 6 weeks old, the 5th of what would become a gaggle of 10 grandchildren, the youngest of whom is now an 8th grader. Somewhere there’s a picture of him dwarfed by a 15 lb. lobster at dinner in year one.

For 23 years we distilled each year’s visits into a single week. We laughed and we cried, whispered and screamed. We loved and not-so-loved over each week as my generation fell into and out of our childhood family roles. It’s kinda like draft slots, right? You sit at the same place at the family dinner table and its even called “Beth’s seat”, or “Darrell’s seat”, or whomever. Whatever your place was in the family (agitator, comforter, achiever, slacker) at some point in the week you fell right into your allotted space. Triumphs and tribulations were tabulated as we offered each other all manner of advice and support. Some of it even solicited! In some years we single-handedly kept the vintners of California solvent with our dinner-time consumption.

So why now? Why is this summer the year that the end is nigh? Ah, it’s that old bugaboo, change. The younger couples and their children were paying attention and they have seen what it takes for the grandchildren to attend as they get older; this has (rightfully) given them pause. It’s hard, very hard, to make a week like this happen every year. As the kids get older, move through their school years and into real life, getting them to the Cape becomes ever more challenging, even when they truly want to be there. More than that, though, is the inexorable change wrought by time in my parents, Gram and Gramp. Soon, much too soon, the trip will either be too much for them to handle, or they’ll not be with us to handle it at all. All things come to an end, after all. Even something as unlikely and wonderful as a family of 20 meeting for a week on the same beach for 23 years.

The lessons are as obvious as they are at once joyous and sad. Good things are worth the effort it takes to keep them alive. My family, led by my brother, will likely try to do just that. Even good things, or the best of things, will eventually succumb to change and perhaps even come to an end. These realizations are bittersweet in our case for they bring along the dread for what this proxy for ultimate change portends. Late one night Mrs. bingo was awakened to the sounds of my muffled sobs as the end appeared before me. This year? Next? Change is the only constant. Everything comes to an end.

As I turned to leave, not knowing if I would ever return, I bent down to kiss my beloved beach goodbye.