A Cape May Tradition

DSC05603We’re headed to Cape May again soon, where we have been going annually for more than 30 years. We started going as a family in 1980, when Dana was almost seven and Derek not quite two years old. I missed at least one year when I was out of the country, and there might have been another summer when vacation elsewhere meant we couldn’t go, but other than that we’ve been in Cape May every summer since 1980. For me, a summer without a trip to Cape May isn’t quite complete.

For more than 15 years, we camped with other folks from our church who had started going as a group several years before we joined them. Our first experience was in a borrowed tent (which leaked badly during a thunderstorm one night), and over the years we had a variety of accommodations: a borrowed homemade pop-up camper, rented pop-up campers, a variety of tents, and finally a couple summers in one of the campground’s trailer rentals. We never owned our own camper or RV because this was the only time we camped all year and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something we used only once a year. Sometimes we felt a little like second class citizens in our tent, when most other families had long-since graduated to campers and RVs. One year when we arrived in the middle of a rainstorm and found that our campsite was a lake, we were really grateful for the kindness of friends who offered us drier accommodations for the night.

By the time our kids were grown, Dale and I had had enough of the whole camping thing. It was way too much work and always a bit tension-filled, especially during the above-mentioned rainstorms. The effort was worth it for our kids for whom Cape May was a family tradition they eagerly anticipated every year, but not for just the two of us. So instead of setting up camp for 7-10 days every summer, we stayed in a motel for 2-3 days. Sometimes Dana and her family joined us for part of the time. Even when we weren’t camping, we planned our motel stay over the same time the church folks were camping and I joined them every day at the beach. (By this time, Dale had given up the beach in favor of doing what he enjoys ever so much more than sitting on the beach: walking, photography, birdwatching – pretty much anything but the beach!)

The last two years Dale and I have chosen to go to Cape May by ourselves and not join the church group in early August. Two years ago, we went near the end of September and enjoyed Cape May in the fall, and last year we went in early June (as a little getaway right after Derek and Katie’s wedding). This year we’ll join Dana and Nes and the grandkids for a few days in July.

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A row of iconic Victorian homes
on the Cape May beachfront

I have to say that I have really liked being in Cape May by ourselves. I love the area in and around Cape May and all its special charms; I love the ocean; I like to sit on the beach and read and people-watch; I like to walk on the beach; I like repeating all those traditions from the past like going to Rainbow for ice cream, browsing the shops at the Washington Mall, visiting the lighthouse and walking the boardwalk trail, eating at Lobster House, and looking for Cape May diamonds at Sunset Beach. But before we started going to Cape May on our own, I was finding it increasingly difficult to be on the beach with others from church. I felt all alone in the crowd – lonely even though I was among people I go to church with every Sunday when we’re at home. My natural tendencies toward introversion and a touch of social anxiety somehow increased when I no longer had kids with me as natural buffers and conversation-builders. For reasons that probably have more to do with me than anyone else, I began to feel like I didn’t belong anymore.

Still, there is the pull to Cape May every year. I remember the good times, and the fun it was for our kids to have cousins and friends to hang around with on the beach and at the campground. When I look through our old albums, almost every year there is another installment of photos showing the steady passage of time and the kids growing up. The photos bring back lots of wonderful memories.

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Love this photo of toddler Derek feeding the gulls

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Derek had a wonderful time playing in this
storm-created large pool way up on the beach
He had sand in every available crevice in his body!

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Always the tough guy!

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Dana and Derek with their cousin Alex

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When Dale still went to the beach!

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Catching the wave!

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Campground activity

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Three cool girls

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Derek and Jared
(two of four guys who hung out together)

And now the grandkids are learning to love Cape May:

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Alecia’s first summer in Cape May

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On the beach

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At Sunset Beach

This year will be the third grandchild’s first experience in Cape May. I’m looking forward not only to helping to introduce Selena to the wonderful traditions that have been part of our Cape May experience for more than 30 years but also to being part of making more memories for Alecia and Justis. And Dale even says he might come to the beach this time – if there are grandkids to play with and he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time sitting.

I’ve tried to analyze the pull of the ocean for me. It’s not like we always went to the beach when I was a child because we didn’t, although the two holidays my family spent in South Africa back in the 1950s included time in the town of Durban on the Indian Ocean and I remember going to the beach there. I loved the mountains Dale and I visited during recent vacations (Grand Tetons, Rockies, Cascades, Smoky Mountains), but I still periodically need my ocean fix. When we went to Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and Dale was fixated on looking for certain birds, I could feel myself panicking as the days slipped by and I hadn’t been able to spend much time on the beach. Why is that? I don’t know the answer, except to speculate that it has something to do with nostalgia about a childhood spent on the other side of the ocean, or perhaps it’s the reminders of the ebb and flow of life and the pleasantly hypnotic experience of watching waves constantly crashing on the shore. Whatever the pull, it’s there. Cape May, here we come again!

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5 thoughts on “A Cape May Tradition

  1. Cape May holds very similar feelings and experiences for me as well. I too will have a grandchild to share it with next year and I am already thinking about how to make that possible. I like how the largeness of the ocean reminds me that I am most certainly not in charge and that even though I have a relationship with the God who is in charge I do not fully understand everything about God, nor do i need to. I for one need to be reminded of that at least once a year.

  2. Lovely descriptions! I’m with Dale in avoiding the beach. I enjoy watching the ocean; but sun and water are both bad ideas for me. Time with family and friends are both good, worth remembering and repeating.

  3. For years, we went to the New Jersey shore every summer–near Cape May. And always, we had to visit Cape May, a favorite location. But one year, our daughter suggested we go overseas–and have not been back to the beach since.
    I agree the ocean has a strong pull on us–I think it is primordial, our bodies resonate in tune to salt water.
    I also understand avoiding the beach–as one who is too fair, I have no need or desire to sit and bake in the sun.
    Enjoy your time with grandchildren–a great reason to be at the beach.

  4. Cape May is a great tradition. We have really enjoyed our time there. But I sure am glad we have a camper! It certainly is “easier” when you have the kids as a buffer/common denominator.

  5. Lots of common memories here! I think the picture of Derek & Jared is in the gigantic plastic-lined sauna that Derek designed. Ken & I miss talking with you at the beach & miss interacting with Dana & Ness & their children, too. I’m glad you are carrying the tradition on with the next generation. There are a few of us in the group now who have 3 generations. Hard to imagine that my mother was 9 years younger than I am now when they first started coming to Cape May with the group. She was so young–just 54 🙂

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