As I sit here in Myrtle Beach listening to my kids’ laughter, I am ever so thankful that I am here with the ocean outside my window, sunburned and happy. A year ago today I was bald, sick and miserable. A year ago today I couldn’t see past the fog in my brain caused by all the drugs in my system which were given to counteract the poison they pumped into my veins. This trip to South Carolina is my family’s favorite vacation– they tell me every year; and last year we missed it due to my chemo regimine.
In the spirit of that, I thought I would share a piece I wrote on my family’s vacation growing up. It was the year my father offered to run the Sagamore Lodge in hopes of purchasing it outright. My dad always was a big dreamer. I was not born yet when this happened but I grew up surrounded by the stories of how great that summer was. I wrote this for a class — we needed to write a piece from someone elses memories….This was mine.
The Greatest Summer I Never Had
It was a magical summer, kind of like Gidget meets Gatsby, the year my father, a part-time realtor, offered to buy and run the vacant Sagamore Lodge. Within hours of his decision on that June day in 1961 he closed up the house in Brighton, employed friends and relatives and drove the family off to what, from all accounts, was the greatest summer vacation my family ever had. Throughout my life I would listen to these tales from Sagamore Lodge with a head full of wonder and a pocketful of jealousy. My family seemingly lived a lifetime before I was born.
It was a stately old Inn that stood across the street from Sagamore Beach before you crossed the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod. Wide planked steps led to the clapboard gray wraparound porch which housed a dozen or so high- backed wooden rocking chairs. On most days the persistent sea-breeze caused these empty chairs to move on their own as if a ghost party of long ago guests still enjoyed the ocean view, sipping brandy, discussing literature.
My mother’s high heels clipped across the black and white marbled floor of the lobby to the enormous front desk where she, sun-kissed and fit, collected the money from the weekend guests or answered the phones. Eight year old Brian, barefooted and by her side, played cops and robbers in the foyer ready to hold up unsuspecting visitors with his dime- store cap gun. To the right was the dining room where they ate what Auntie Tina cooked in the massive restaurant sized kitchen: Spaghetti for the kids; lobsters, steaks, and shrimp for the adults. To the left, lay the sitting room with comfortable, Queen Anne chairs, musty from the briny air and a floor to ceiling fireplace that my father would light on cool late-August evenings.
Only a few rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors had bathrooms. Other guests had to use the community lavatory in the middle of the hallway. There was always a lot of comings and goings on the second floor. “Hanky Panky” my sister called it from the military fly-boys who used the lodge as a stop over or weekend retreat
In the basement lounge my father tended bar and entertained friends and guests lucky enough to fall onto his barstools. Joe Buckley was always ready with a joke as he poured you a “short one”. Sidecars and Manhattans were the drink of choice. His baby girl, pixie-haired Mary, not yet 5, sat on a barstool drinking a Shirley Temple and plunking confiscated nickels into the pinball machine. From his place behind the bar, my father could see through the open window, his boys, ten year old Michael and Paul, age twelve wrestling on the back lawn
After their morning routine cleaning guestrooms and making beds, the two oldest siblings, Maureen and Karen, ran the snack shop out the side window of the basement bar. The only burger joint on the block, there was always a line of neighborhood kids, pushing and shoving to be first, no adults around to maintain order. Karen flipped burgers while comely Moe adjusted her bikini and flirted shamelessly with the boys.
It was Friday and all these things made my father smile. There were 3 whole glorious days until Monday, when he would rise at dawn, kiss his sleeping wife goodbye, and drive north up route 3 to his sales job in Boston. I wonder what he thought on those morning drives. I wonder if he believed with childlike optimism that the magic would last forever or if deep down he knew this was one of the last summers he could keep his family together.