My dad always got two weeks of vacation when I was growing up in suburban Philadelphia. Though we kids had three months off from school in the summer, dad only got two weeks when the company he worked for shut down, usually in July.
We didn’t always go away, but when we did, it was usually to the Jersey shore for at most a week. We usually stayed at a motel in Ocean City, which we three kids thought was just the greatest thing in the world. It’s only an hour-and-a-half drive from where we lived, but it seemed to take forever. The windows were open because the car had no AC. And of course we routinely fought over who had to sit in the middle. No one wanted to sit on the “hump.” Our days were mostly spent on the beach, digging in the sand, building castles and getting sunburnt. My dad always swam pretty far out, but we didn’t roam too far from shore. Or, we would roam the boardwalk, begging for ice cream, saltwater taffy or miniature golf. We would go out for one nice fish dinner while we were there.
One year, my mom found a nearby church that had vacation bible school the same week we were there. She wasted no time getting us signed up and out of her hair every morning. If I remember correctly, it was actually a two-week program, but we only attended for five days. My memories of that week are vague but positive, so we must have had fun.
One year we headed out the other direction and spent a few days at Hershey Park. Before the days of big amusement parks, the rides here were a big deal. Plus, you got to tour the actual chocolate factory, which I thought was the best part.
A family vacation that really stands out is from the summer of 1971. I was confirmed that spring, turned 14 that July, and would have been a high school freshman that fall. We began with a drive to Wilmington, NC where my dad’s older brother Thomas lived. (No AC, windows open, fighting over seats in the blue Ford Falcon station wagon.) The beaches were white, wide and gorgeous. We got to see the fabric mill where Uncle Tommy worked. Operating at full capacity back then, I remember all the colors of spinning spools of thread and the deafening sound of the looms weaving yard after yard of fabric. Another vivid highlight of Wilmington was touring the battleship North Carolina. You could sit and pivot in an antiaircraft gun, stand way up in the bridge and pose for pictures beside some of the huge guns.
From there we drove up the Outer Banks of North Carolina, including two ferries. At the top of the Outer Banks we spent time at Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers Museum. From there we spent a couple of days at Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, VA before heading home. We desperately but futilely tried to convince dad to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel home. Instead we went via Washington, DC.
A few years before that, instead of taking a vacation trip, my dad used the money to buy a pool for out backyard. It seemed huge back then, but I think it was only twelve feet across and three feet deep. We all helped dig yards and yards of dirt from the top of the hill so we had a level circle for the pool. It wasn’t always warm, but we swam, jumped, snorkeled and splashed the next few summers. It was definitely worth staying home.