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2001-05-25 - 1:33 p.m.

Down the Cape

My parents are heading north on the Parkway right now, bound for Cape Cod and a weekend in Hyannis. I should be with them. Instead, I'm watching the house (and the cat) and working this weekend.

It's been a Memorial Day tradition for nearly 20 years the mother-in-law of a college friend of Mom's owns a house on the 14th green of the Hyannisport golf club. It has something like eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, four entrances (if you count the garage) and a living room, porch, dining room, kitchen and patio. Every Memorial Day weekend, Mom and four of her close college friends meet at the Cape with their families. At times, we'd have 14 people there with the husbands and the five children. In recent years, one of the women has had a falling out with the group and no longer visits, and the children of which I'm the oldest have been kept away by college and work committments. This year, I'm working, my sister's on a post-graduate jaunt around France, Katie is working and Davey is at school (though may make a day trip down from Boston). I think Liz is the only one who will spend any significant time there.

I've missed two years in a row now. Three years ago, in 1999, I drove up Saturday afternoon, I think, after covering high school track in New Jersey. I filed my story and then hit the road, calling from a rest stop to make sure they had no questions for me.

It's always been a fun weekend. When we were little kids, there were mandatory trips we had to make each year a walk to the candle shop, where we dipped our own candles and bought other trinkets and knick-knacks; an evening fishing in the pond on the golf course, where it wasn't a complete night until someone hooked the snapping turtle; at least one afternoon of miniature golf on one of Cape Cod's fine courses. In fact, one year, we played a different course each of the three days Friday, Saturday, Sunday we were there.

We'd always take a walk down to the beach, where we could watch the ferries leave the harbor bound for Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. We'd walk the sand on the Atlantic near the Kennedy family compound, where Rose lived until her death in 1994 I think, my freshman year of college.

And for a long time, we made movies. Particularly when the home video camera was a novelty and one in four families had one now it's nearly everybody, isn't it? the parents would come up with semi-elaborate productions, skits we'd capture on tape, watch later that night, and hardly think about again. As the children got older, we'd send the parents off for a nice dinner out and take the camera and produce our own flicks usually lip-synced music videos to songs like "Tom's Diner," "I've Been To Memphis," a Z-100 (New York radio) parody of "Love Shack" called "Butt Crack," a Dr. Demento novelty tune here and there. Those nights often ended in tears, people rolling on the floor in convoluted fits of uncontrolable laughter.

But the novelty of the videos faded, and we shifted to role-playing murder mysteries and marathon games of charades into the night.

As we got older, the activities changed. One year, we took a day and drove the length of U.S. 6 out to Provincetown P-Town the end of the Cape and the Pilgrims' first landing point before continuing on to Plymouth. We climbed the tower and looked down upon the sandy hook of the peninsula, the bay to the right and the Atlantic beyond. In recent years, we've all gone out to a fancy dinner, a group of 12 or so taking over a corner of some restaurant and dividing the converstation into two halves of the table for the night.

One year, my family arrived Thursday night, a day ahead of everyone else. We stayed in a hotel and on Friday Mom and Dad went to visit an old friend while Jess and I took a 45-minute ferry ride to Martha's Vineyard, rented bicycles, and spent the afternoon pedaling a loop from the dock to Edgartown and back, 12 miles maybe, that left our legs and butts sore for the entire weekend.

I hope to be able to continue the tradition someday, with my college friends. With Bryan and Mia living in Massachusetts, they made the drive down from Pembroke and Plymouth to visit a couple of those recent years, and we kind of began the tradition then. But my schedule has kept me from establishing any kind of regular rendezvous with those college chums, and for now any kind of regular reunion on a particular summer weekend is on hold. But some day, some year, everyone will plan on Memorial Day in Cape Cod or Maine; or the Fourth of July on the Jersey Shore on Maryland's Eastern Shore; or Labor Day in New York or D.C. We'll set a place or rotate the location and a date and plan on every year convening for laughter and stories. The group will grow as we marry and have kids, and someday our children will look at us and the bonds we've formed and hope that they will have the same good fortune themselves.

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