BRIGGS: Getting away from angry politicians, climate change and ‘BREAKING NEWS’ | Opinion
Packing for a shore vacation for the whole family, including another “Grandpa”. Let’s see, they’re coming from Brooklyn, Queens, Summit, Basking Ridge, Malvern, Florida. What to bring: Wash and fold towels, sheets and pillow cases. Don’t forget soap (dish, dishwasher and hand), then kitchen stuff. A trip to the grocery store for staples… remember favorite cereals, tea, coffee, beer, wine,… Oh yeah, there’s a birthday.
And everyone is bringing at least one dog. That will be an event in itself.
Stuff it all into the SUV, including the… Oh no! He almost forgot the dog! Oh yea… and dog food, dog bed, leash, toys….
(Here’s a question: how did people go on vacations before SUVs?).
Finally on the freeway two hours later than planned, his back saying “what the *&^!8!”, he can’t remember if he locked the house or not. Argh!
He drives for an hour and a half, at… well, just a tad over the speed limit.
(Now, what is that about?! Why would anyone get all pent up and race to a vacation place to mellow out? Who knows? Because everyone else on the road is doing the same thing? Maybe it’s our competitive nature. Maybe to have more time to mellow out than the other guy. Maybe both – “I got more mellow-out time than you did! Hah!”.)
He gets there within 15 minutes of everyone else – it turns out they all got a late start, too.
Unload all the stuff (more complaints from that stupid back). Say hi to everyone. Decide who gets what room. Have that first beer or coke and try not to complain about Jersey traffic. (Unfortunately, we can’t all come from PA.)
They walk the dogs, then stroll a few blocks to a local restaurant for dinner. A woman in a long skirt and floppy sunhat riding a fat-tired bike weaves through desultory traffic. Cars don’t even honk at her. Hmmm.
Shrimp scampi to drool over and on a paper plate. And some of the worst looking, best tasting french fries ever. There are quiet, catching up conversations, punctuated with occasional bursts of laughter.
Grandpa’s a birthday boy today and he has presents to open. He brings his own cake – carrot cake – because it reminds him of his daughter’s carrot cake (the best ever! No contest. The best!). She’s told him she can’t be there for this birthday, or bring his grandchildren. So he decided to just get a store cake this year instead. So there!
But one taste and Grandpa details the store cake’s inadequacies. As good as it is (and – Yum!!), he convinces everyone it’s not real carrot cake at all.
(What everyone else knows is that Grandpa’s daughter and grandchildren are going to arrive for a day-after-birthday-surprise the next day. The real surprise? No-one breaks the secret).
The next morning he takes the dog for a long walk, past expansive Victorian beach houses adjacent to sleek contemporary ones. Next to a small park with swings is the town’s City Hall, a building that looks more like a college dorm than a government office. A vintage MG TD purrs down the street, the driver looking left and right for attention. It has been beautifully restored and triggers memories of black and white British movies. He passes an early 1950’s pickup truck, shiny red, with an upright cab and a long bed – also looking new.
They all sit in wicker chairs on the wrap-around porch after a late breakfast. There is some talk of current events, but more of childhood, jobs, the New York commute and, of course, jokes about the relatives who aren’t there to defend themselves.
Sometime later in the afternoon, when he least expects it, Grandpa answers a knock at the door and there stand his daughter and his two grandchildren.
Shouts of glee. Hugs. Laughs. And later, the carrot cake he had bragged about. And yes, it is as good as he said.
For the rest of the week: walks on the beach, reading books that they got two Christmas ago, long naps, reminiscing about childhoods and family lore, playing cards and board games, watching dogs peacefully work out a pecking order amongst themselves (well, fairly peacefully).
No radio. No TV. Checking email maybe.
Grandpa takes the grandchildren for a stroll. They see a newspaper stand in town, with real newspapers, crisp stacked and unread.
“What are those, Grandpa?”
“Right now, nothing I want to think about. But I had a great birthday!”