I am a South Carolina girl. I was born in Ohio, but most of the big stuff happened SOTMDL. The vacations I remember were beach trips, day trips to Lake Murray or road trips to Florida. There were First Weeks spent in Myrtle Beach and school leadership retreats in North Myrtle or Pawleys Island. A few family vacations to the barely-populated, chain-free hamlets of coastal North Carolina.
But there is one vacation experience I have come to know and love with a passion no hotel can muster: camp.
My husband’s family has deep vacation roots in Upstate New York. Generations have relaxed and unwound on the shores of Sandy Pond, just off Lake Ontario. Just outside of Syracuse near the Hughes epicenter of Central Square, the family camps are ancient by today’s standards and a little shabby with a minimum of chic. And that’s just the way they should be. No granite, no leather furniture and no air conditioning.
At camp, life doesn’t completely stop. There’s always something to do. Think about what’s for lunch. Read a book. Take the boat across the pond to swim in the lake. Go fishing. Eat a Byrne Dairy ice cream sandwich. Play golf. Maybe take the kids to the Oswego County Fair if you’re there around the Fourth of July. Lure your spouse out for a date night to the Wayside bar (down the road) or the Dinosaur (down the highway).
It’s a charming, out of the way place where generations have played, married and retired. Change is usually incremental and that’s part of what you love. The houses are much the same as they were fifty years ago.
For the first few years I went, showers were tagged on to swimming. Going water skiing? Bring the shampoo and wash your hair, too. Chances are, it’s been a few days since you washed it.
You just can’t wash off the camp feeling though. You’re born with it. Or in my case, you marry in to it. My mother-in-law has an uncanny knack for knowing the year in which each of her children and grandchildren first dipped his or her toe in Sandy Pond. Since you can’t stay away, it’s usually sometime after their baptism but before their first birthday.
There’s really not much at camp. The barest minimum of furniture, dishes, food and everyday luxuries that we can’t seem to live without at home. Yet, camp has much that’s out of reach at home. The most important thing being all of us, together.
For a short time, the Turners are not scattered all over the east coast. We are all together in the one place where people with the last names of Hughes, Turner, Fitzpatrick, Johnson and Ashcroft have gathered for years. Siblings, grandparents, spouses, cousins and a whole schmere of grandchildren. My husband and his siblings sit on the same couches and chairs their grandparents sat on years ago, they read the same dusty books their parents read, their children ride the bikes they themselves rode years ago.
At camp you’re surrounded by reminders of people loved and lost. Grainy photos, favorite chairs and coffee cups, and stories that time cannot seem to fade. They’re all there with you … sitting by the fire, skimming across the lake, cooking hot dogs on the grill, helping you round up a fourth for a late afternoon round at The Elms golf course.
It’s better than a simple vacation because it’s steeped for so many years. It’s reached a level no amount of luxury can usurp. It’s a family tradition. One we hope our boys are lucky enough to share with their children, too.
Sitting on green grass eating Byrne Dairy ice cream sandwiches while surrounded by years and years of love. That’s camp, in a nutshell.