Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Cape Week: A Loving Memorial. Sunday musings…8/7/2022

As she headed out the door and off to the barn Beth looked over her shoulder: “What’s your plan for today?” I replied that it was Sunday, the Sunday at the end of Cape Week. I thought I should sit down and write a bit. The annual trip isn’t really over until I write about it.

Each morning as I sit and contemplate the night before and the day ahead, I peruse the memories on my Facebook feed. Around this time of year they are filled with thoughts about the Crossfit Games, and musings on both the front and back ends of what is universally known around me as Cape Week. To be fair, having drifted away from the Crossfit world these last few years, I only this morning discovered that one of my friendly acquaintances from here in Ohio placed second in the Masters 50-54 competition. In years past I would have watched every second of his quest. Now all that remains for me in August is what has been part of August for 31 years now:

What remains of Cape Week.

As I predicted 6 years ago when I wrote about Cape Week on the way home after Year 25, change has come for Cape Week. Have you been reading Random Thoughts for long? If so, then you know the story of Cape Week and I ask for your forbearance as I tell it once again for those who may be unfamiliar. Beth and I are both first-borns. More than that, among our siblings we ended up doing pretty much everything first. First to marry and so first to have in-laws. First to have children, and so first to receive all manner of “help” in parenting them. Long after the start of Cape week we were also first to have a child marry, gaining in-laws in law, and along with that the first to have grandchildren of our own.

In-laws bring with them the expectations and desires of another family. For sure there are all kinds of new “must attend” events, but it is the two great American holidays that become the flashpoints of discontent, especially in families that do not settle together. Who will host Thanksgiving and Christmas, and more importantly, who will be there? With the appearance of in-laws for my youngest sister we four siblings and our spouses realized that there were no easy options to make all 5 sets of our parents “holiday happy”. Our response? At least for the extended White Family, we would create our own holiday, a week together at the beach. My sister Tracey found a 5 bedroom house across a sand road from the beach, and in July of 1992 Cape Week was born.

For 25 years we had a kind of growing Groundhog Day week. We gathered in the main house (to which we added a spill-over cottage next door in year 4) for meals, games, and naps. Each day was spent almost entirely on the beach. Even Dad, not in any sense a beach guy, would fill up a beach chair and be at least a part of the scenery (as an aside, this is part of what informed my description of him, and my father-in-law, as “garden gnome” grandfathers: fun to play around, but they didn’t really play back). Eventually there was a total of 10 grandchildren, none of whom lived in the same town, and all of whom have become friends because for one week each year they were together on the beach.

It was quite rare for anyone to leave the compound in those first 25 years. Nor were visitors invited in, to be honest. During the years of “Cape Week Classic” it was the extended White Family, period. We are a family of habit, tradition. Comically so, in some instances. Saturday night dinner? Always barbecued chicken. Friday night finale? Pizza. The change from Joey’s to Paradise, years overdue, took one full week to bring about. No, while growth (we had young kids!) was occurring, change was not a part of Cape Week. With the exception of medical crisis, for 25 years we all came and we all stayed.

What does it take to pull off something that remained so much the same for 25 years? I’ve reposted my “musings…” from year 25 just below. Quite frankly no one can really say, and what I said 6 years ago is probably as well as I will personally ever be able to say it. Four couples committed to a week together with one parent/in-law, and then did whatever it took to make it happen for 25 years. It is now year 31, and as I predicted, our 25th year on the Cape was, indeed, the last of what I, at least, would call Cape Week.

The winds of change had blown through our week at the beach, as we all knew, or should have known they would, though each of us in our own way held out a tiny bit of hope that they wouldn’t. Dad passed away. Mom now only makes short “ceremonial” stays on the beach itself, and only a few at that. One sibling has a medical condition that for the most part keeps them off the beach. The daily walks together with my siblings and in-laws weren’t possible for me because I need a new hip. Only one grandchild remains in college; the rest hold jobs with little vacation to spare for their parents’ in-laws. Only two of five great-grandchildren have ever felt the sand of our sacred beach between their toes. In year 1 of Cape Week there were 10 adults and 5 children together for 7 days and 6 nights. For year 31 we had 9 adults and 3 children.

No one was left for pizza on Friday.

What a run it was, though! At the end of Year 25 I sobbed in the night before we left, as I kissed the beach goodbye, and while I wrote my “musings…”. What my siblings, our spouses, our children and I had come to know as Cape Week had, indeed, run its course at the end of that week, and if we never returned it was a run for the ages. 25 years! Everyone there all day, every day, every year. Although I did leave behind a tear or two during my annual kiss of thanks to our beach, these tears were not only tears of sadness as they were in the past. No, these were also tears of gratitude for what this beach, this Week has meant to our family and done for our family. For the friendships among the cousins. The love among the four couples. For my parents.

But they were also tears of joy. Some time over the week it finally came to me that another Cape Week tradition, a wholly new and different one, had actually started in year 26. Different, yes, but once I realized that, everything changed for the good. We had 25 years of Cape Week. As a family and as families we were blessed beyond reason. And for 6 years we’ve had something else. We can still call it Cape Week, of course, even though it’s different. But I didn’t cry on the way home, and I’m not crying while I write this. Each of the last 6 years has been unique, yet if you think about it–if you allow yourself to admit it–each of those years was just as lovely in its own right as all of those first 25 years were.

Some part of our family was together on “our” beach.

Winds of change have blown through Cape Week, but these last 6 years have shown that our love and fidelity to the goals we once had, and the memories we created over 25 years and will now share for eternity, need not be carried away by that breeze. Cape Week has changed. We have changed, all of us. But Cape Cod and our sacred beach remain, there for whomever may wish to gather for however long they wish to stay.

We will experience joyful change (graduations, marriages, births), and eventually loss and sorrow. We once chose to be together, and for 25 years we ritually did so. Have we closed the door on the house and driven away one, last, final time? I don’t know. I doubt it. While the ritual is gone, we may be fortunate enough to make the same choice we’ve now made 6 times, if not always, at least on occasion. We can choose. Cape Week, for all of its intensity over the years, has changed with us as we have changed along the way. The setting is the same; the story and the characters a bit different each time the book is opened. Who knows? There may be 25 more years, each one as unique and different from the last as years 1-25 were the same.

Year 25 actually WAS the last year of Cape Week as we first knew it. Cape Week has been reborn. It just took me 6 years to realize it.

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