I am not a good storyteller. I am not the life of the party. I am not that “guy” who people tend to gravitate towards. If you get a chance to meet me, don’t expect jokes; however, I am a good listener. My sister handed me a piece of paper and said, “I think you should enter this”. I glanced at it, and to be honest, it was the prize money that first caught my eye. I never expected the sudden flood of memories from my past that have never been shared. It was emotional to put this on paper. I hope you enjoy it.
I was patiently waiting my turn. My hand was raised high, and I was wriggling in my seat, stretching my hand higher, even holding it up with my other hand. “Pick me, pick me!” I was eagerly thinking. Who cared that Karen was going to Disney World; I was glad I wasn’t one of the twins going to Bahamas! The class oohed and aahed when Susan said she was going to Rome. When I was finally called upon, I blurted proudly, “I’m going out east!” My teacher said “Where?” “Out East,” I said louder. Confused, again she said, “Where is that?” I really had no idea where it was. But I knew it was the best kept secret around. That’s what we called our family vacation paradise!
It was 1970; I was seven. My family was compared to the Von Trapp family, Eight is Enough, the Walton’s, the Lennon Sisters, and the Ivory Snow Girls. My parents had five girls and one boy, the youngest. I was number four. My dad was a blue collar worker. He was a master carpenter, working two jobs, honestly and hard, to pay the bills. He was a family man that provided all the love and support that other families would envy. His job offered a two-week vacation, and we all looked forward to our “Out East “trip. We always felt blessed and wealthy growing up. One day, my mom suggested that we go to Hermans’ sports store to buy a tent and try a camping experience. She had read an article about camping, and the tent was on sale. We made lists of what to pack and all six of us had a role in packing up the station wagon; then we headed to Cedar Point County Park for two weeks of family fun. Fly swatters, mosquito coils, coolers, bikes, Frisbees, footsies, clam rakes, games, cards, marshmallows. Two weeks of campfire stories, softball, hikes, kayaking, biking, canoeing, fishing, lawn movies, walks to the camp store, and family expeditions.
There were no roller coaster lines, no hand stamping—just being one with nature and family. It was exciting going “Out East.” It meant riding around Fox Bend and Quail Run, and picking a flat campsite that had two sturdy trees to tie the hammock. The site had to be close to the bathroom, but not too close to hear flushing. Close to the water spigot, but not too close that you would hear it running. We wanted some sun to dry the damp cloths on the line, and shade where we could cook and eat. We raked the site and dug trenches around our tent, just in case Mother Nature decided to deepen her shade of green. We had deer, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, frogs, snakes, and turtles at our site. We took rides to Sag Harbor, visited the town and ate waffle cones. “This is the life”, we would say, “Who could have it better than this?”
My parents invited friends and family out over the ten years we camped. We had to tidy the site for company. Most guests could never find us, and when they did, we chuckled about their stories of how they were lost for hours, and why there wasn’t better signage. They had similar stories about getting home if they stayed for dinner and left after dark. We could relate, because it happened to us many times. But after ten years, you get to know the neighborhood! Some guests would stay over in the “guest room” we set up —a small two-man tent. In the morning, we all enjoyed pancakes with the blueberries we had picked on-site, and the aroma of sizzling bacon. Pumping propane tanks and going to the community sink to wash dishes was fun for us. Dad showed me how to use sand—a natural cleaner—to get the bacon grit off the pan, like they did in the army.
One week, we tried Sears Bellows Campgrounds. My brother leaned forward on his chaise lounge chair and it collapsed into the fire. My dad scooped him up and ran him over to the lake and threw him in. No scars—to this day we call it a miracle. After that, my sister decided she wanted to be independent and not hang around all of us—she wanted to go meet people. She left the site without telling anyone. The search party had flashlights and called her name, “Gina, Gina!” My parents looked worried, but there she was, a few sites away. She missed us just as much as we missed her. My father had a talk with her, and everything was back to normal that morning. It was all family bonding.
When I was around eighteen, some of my sisters and I were allowed to have our boyfriends out, and they were allowed to sleep in the “guestroom”, “Out East.” To our surprise, my dad and the boyfriends, harvested bay scallops! My mom whipped up spaghetti and scallops with parsley, cheese and garlic. We dumped the shucked shells in the garbage can at the empty site a few sites away, so as not to attract flies. Before long, the park ranger was there at the can. Apparently, harvesting scallops was a no-no. Later on that night, we were sitting around the campfire, laughing, telling stories, dancing and just being crazy kids. All that changed when the person on lookout yelled: “Park ranger coming!” It was Ranger Rick, who we all called “Ranger Dick,” over the years. While driving, he was shining his flashlight into sites, as if looking for clues to catch the scallop culprit. He laid down the rules, and he would always say something to us kids, reminding us that he was the law. Like in the movie Cool Hand Luke, he just glared at you with his fancy mirrored glasses, and everyone became silent. Even though we were well-behaved children, we suddenly turned into the children from The Sound of Music. He just wanted us to sleep at night, be quiet and not have fun. We had a family joke, that if he asked us if we were having fun, we were to respond, “No, we are not having fun!”, so we didn’t get kicked out of the park!
In the eighties, “Out East” meant “Hello, Hither Hills!” We graduated from the tent, and dad bought a used Cox pop-up camper! We took our dog Snoopy with us. This was like a hotel for us. At night, my sisters and I went out dancing at places like the Boardy Barn, and hung out at Ditch Plains and Gosman’s Dock. We would get dressed in the bathroom, after waiting in line to shower. We hoped there would be hot water when we pushed the button on the wall. After a day on the water and a night on the town, we would come back to our site and take off our dancing clothes and throw on a comfortable pair of gym shorts and hang out by the fire with my parents and brother—telling stories and laughing about the day’s and night’s events. “Out East” was good times!
In 1993 my sister Laura bought a second house “Out East!” The house is near Fresh Pond. She gave a bedroom to my parents and gave us all a key to use, with an open invitation to use it, whenever. We are all married, and there are sixteen cousins. Only a few things have changed. Now, “Out East” means hot showers, comfortable beds, family, and 360 degree views of water and sunrises and sunsets. My parents sit on the porch saying, “Where are we today?”, imagining they can be anywhere in the world as they gaze at their wonderland. I still say we are going “Out East” to my kids, and they say it to their friends. If you don’t get it by now, you have missed the boat. “Out East” is a fairy tale that builds family and relationships. It creates bonding time and memories that will pass on to future generations. If you still don’t know where it is, please don’t find out. There are many places you can go vist, so please go. You know where you will find me and my family, we’ll be “Out East!”