Charging into the Atlantic Ocean: My Dad and Cape Cod

Even before we got to the car I knew we would be wiping sand from every crevice of our bodies. Even with the baby powder trick.  And I didn’t mind one bit.  It was almost as if we were in the ocean.

Of course, we hadn’t been in the ocean, but try telling that to my kids.  We were at Lake Michigan recently, which is absolutely lovely, but not the ocean.  My kids were adamantly insisting that we spent the day at the ocean, and honestly, I wanted to go with them on this, so I did.  We were at the ocean.

The sand was soft and pure and the water was clear and translucent. Which is lovely, but most definitely not the ocean.  The ocean is angry and salty and demanding and healing.  Then forgiving and asks you back again.  And you say yes each time.

I grew up being lucky enough to spend many vacations on Cape Cod with my family.  Every year for many years we would spend a couple long weeks in a rented house on the beach.  My dad worked incredibly hard – still does – to give us these dream vacations.

PicMonkey Collage
So many pictures through the years. The tans and the happiness look the same.

Usually my dad’s birthday or my birthday would happen around the time we spent out there, both in August, so this time of year is so full of memories that feed all our senses.

My dad turns 70 today.  August 14, 2015.  HOW CAN THAT BE?  I think he’s still about 40.  I remember his 40th birthday so clearly.  There was a belly dancer and all our neighbors and soccer family friends were there.  80’s haircuts and popped collars a-plenty.   I turn 42 at the end of this month. WHAT IS HAPPENING?

I never truly appreciated the rarity and beauty of these Cape vacations until recently.  I thought I did, but I didn’t.  Not really.

Chatham Lighthouse.
Don’t make a reference to Dad being like a lighthouse beam in a dense fog. Don’t do it, Katy. DO NOT DO IT. Oh hell. It’s true. He is. He’s my dad and he’s like a strong beam of safety in the fog of life. I always know I can follow his light and I will be okay.

If you ask my husband he will tell you that I feel like I’ve been barraged by Cape Cod recently.  Each one of the five senses has been assaulted by Cape Cod.  I hear from a girlfriend there is some great recovery going on out on the Cape these days and I’m itching to check that out.  I read about it and follow the Cape Cod Times and have several friends who have been out there lately and it about kills me.  When I think of our family all being out there again together, with all the grandkids and cousins and just each other, well, I get chills.

I have visceral reactions to Cape Cod memories.  It’s irrational and illogical and just, well, deep.  Much has been written and sung and painted about the Cape, because it is that good.

I grew up going out there.  I grew up out there.

My parents home was and is an homage to Cape Cod.  So many paintings and knick knacks and memories on the shelves and walls.  My dad dreamt of retiring there one day, but a) try to get him to slow down enough to retire; and b) their lives took a different turn when they had grandkids and moved to be closer to them.  That happens.

My Dad may think that those vacations didn’t mean as much to us as they did to him, but he would be wrong.  They become more important, more valuable, more treasured as each year passes.

Cape Cod was the only time of the year where all four of us (my brother, mom, dad and me) were together with no interruptions and no distractions and the only time my dad worked was a couple times when he would call his secretary to see if there were any important developments.

In a time before computers, before smartphones and email, before fax machines, we had him all to ourselves and that time was so precious. He would always say that it took the first week to unwind and the second week is when he could truly enjoy the vacation.

It was the only time of the year my dad would cook. Out on the grill most nights with his rare Cape Cod gin & tonic grilling fresh seafood and vegetables. Legend tells of the infamous seagull landing on the grill to steal away the feast.

My mom would make lists for weeks before we left making sure we were prepared and had everything we needed.

We all had each other. And the ocean.

The ocean means Saltwater Taffy. My mom would bring her address book and send a box out to certain people each year.

The Yellow Umbrella book store.  The smell of the new books and the old. The fact that my mom would have read every single book already but kept going back because she lives and breathes books.

The Candy Manor downtown Chatham was our holy grail.  We would get to pick out our own bag of candy.  Anything we wanted.  We didn’t get much candy in our normal lives, so vacation candy was especially exciting.  My brother would gorge on gummi worms while I preferred chocolate.

The Friday night band concerts with balloons and glow sticks and candy.  Did I mention the candy?


We would dance with each other and the folks there and sit on a blanket  with our low rise beach chairs and wear our new Chatham sweatshirts that we got each year.  Sun kissed and happy.

It’s where we first saw E.T.  The first time I ever remember seeing my big strong dad cry.  It was also where we saw Back to the Future and my parents teased me about having a crush on Michael J. Fox.  It was the first time I saw Clueless. Twice.  IMPORTANT MOMENTS IN THIS GIRLS LIFE.

With our collars popped we wore our crisp white pants and deck shoes and easy breezy skirts and dresses that we couldn’t get away with wearing with such ease back home in the Midwest.

I would fantasize about the locals, the regulars who had it all figured out and were just beach bums all Summer.  I would look at the girls so confident (or so I thought) in their swimsuits and wish I could feel that way in mine.  I wanted to be like them. I would look at the boys and wonder if a boy like that could ever like me.

We had a song every Summer when we were there.  Whatever was the most popular song on the radio and we heard a lot, it was our song.  So to this day anytime I hear The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News or Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It, I am transported to a minivan on those few but memorized Cape Cod roads.  And anything James Taylor. OF COURSE.  I’m listening to old James Taylor while writing this post and it’s hard to see through the tears. WHAT A JERK.

The smell.  I caught it the other day at the beach with my kids.  It wasn’t the strong salty sea we grew so accustomed to or the fresh fish being delivered right off the boat.  It was the heat and the water and though we weren’t in salt water and we weren’t on the crunchy sand with pieces of shell and tiny crabs and seaweed creeping, I smelled it.  The sea.

The humidity.  I mean, you think you know humidity until you basically just live in it.  I recall the paper curling humidity from fridge notes and my hair in the 80’s that while requiring much Aqua Net anyway, required even more to keep any kind of “style” – homeperm – ahem.  

Nothing ever really changes out on the Cape.  I’ll bet I could go back and things would likely be very similar to how I last saw them so many years ago.  It’s comforting.  It’s like a warm afghan on a chilly morning.

It’s old money. No showy business thank you.  Beauty is timeless and crisp and old school.  No need for flash out there.

The rush of a shower after spending a day on the beach, sun burnt to a crisp even when your parents warned you it would happen, but happy to be washing the saltwater and sand off to a clean fresh evening.  It would hurt when you slept, but still you did it again and again because you were at the beach, dammit.

Evening visits to different ice cream shoppes (yes shoppes) around the Cape were the thing.  It happened almost every night and I’ve never tasted better cream.

The Barnstable County Fair.  Those dangerous terrible rides and the awful food that was just the best.

The miniature golf.  The go carts.

Greenheads.  Bastards.

The evening drives to the beach to see all the “kissers” as my dad called them.  He would pull over in an empty beach lot to let my brother and I take the wheel long before we were legally old enough to drive.

The ferry rides to a magical day on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.  The bike rides, the moped rides, the meals.  The shopping.

The night time ferry ride back to the mainland.  Stars on the ferry and the deep dark of night.  You felt like you were the only people in the world on that boat in the middle of the darkness.

These bracelets.


A new one every year that stayed on until it started to unravel or stink.

Waking up late each morning without an agenda, unless we were going on a whale watch.  The WHALE WATCHES.

Going shopping for back to school clothes and shoes OUT ON THE CAPE because other kids wouldn’t have exactly what we had.


I think back on all those vacations now and only remember the greatness and wonder of the time we spent together in a beautiful place.  I think of my parents and brother so fondly and while I know we had our fights and our whining (sorry mom and dad and Andy) ultimately I know we all cherish those times together so much.  In the last few years Julie (my brother’s wife of 16 years now) and my Christopher even came out with us.  It’s in our blood and our make up now.  We all want to go back.  We all want to get back.  We all want to share it with our kids.

Julie, Andy, Christopher, Me. 1995

So much has happened.  So much has changed.  But we are all still here and we are all sharing our lives with the next generation since we’ve been out there.  We need to pass this on too.

My dad went out there as a kid and my parents honeymooned there.  He made a point of getting us there and saving and making it work.  He drove my mom crazy with how much money he spent.  But she loved it too.

My dad never walked quietly.  I have a clear memory of him not walking timidly into the ocean, oh no.  He would back way up on the beach and run at full speed into the crashing waves as we watched and marveled at his strength and presence and ability to dive in.  He charged into the Atlantic Ocean.  When we were little we wore life jackets in the waves because you don’t mess with that kind of power. He would hold us up and throw us and play in the water with no slowing down even for a moment.  Much as he has his entire life.  My dad powers through.  He gets shit done.  He is my all powerful, ever present, ever reliable and ever trustworthy dad.

Knock on wood he’s still so healthy and raring to go and still fight ready. Just try to get him to talk about retiring and you see that he’s nowhere near done.  He’s the hardest working man I’ve ever known and he’s the best caretaker I’ve ever encountered.   If he loves you you know it and if you’ve disappointed him you know it too.  In my family we can decipher a look or a sigh or a word and know exactly what mood he is in. Isn’t that what family is all about? Luckily I don’t do that much these days. I think I’ve made him pretty happy with how things are going and that’s the greatest living amend I could hope for.


My husband and I recently watched the original Vacation movie and while way over the top, there is something so incredibly endearing about the Father working so hard so that the family can take a nice vacation.  I’m not saying my dad is Clark Griswold, because he’s definitely not, but there is something so pure in Clark’s desire to give his family a good old fashioned family vacation.  Expectations.  My dad has them.  But to his credit, he’s worked so hard on curbing his expectations and learned to go with the flow. With 6 grandchildren, he was forced into it.

Thank you Mom and Dad for getting us there every year.  All the effort and money spent – thank you.

While I missed the last year you all went because I was in rehab for the last time, I’m so glad you all went.  It was important.  It was definitely worth it as you had to put off so much because of me – you put your lives on hold for me –  but I promise you, we will be back again.  YES WE WILL.  And soon. Hey Atlantic Ocean and South Chatham, Cape Cods Elbow Land?  We are coming for you.  And we are bringing 6 additional kiddos with us to carry it all on.  Get all the ice cream ready!

This photo was 20 years ago. 20 YEARS AGO. Like that pitch black night on the ferry rides, we all had no idea what was coming back then. Terrifying and beautiful. Yet here we all are some 20 years after this picture was taken smiling big and marveling at all life has brought our way.

We are all saving and preparing to go back.  That’s my birthday promise to you.  My greatest wish.

Happy 70th Birthday, Dad.  Grampy.  You’ll never ever know how much everything you’ve worked for and provided for us has meant.  It has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.  I see it all.  I see you.  I love you.  Now stop crying already.

Everything good.




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