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July 30, 2016

imageBeing the first week of August, I, and available family, take the week “off”. It is vacation: an imposition of relief that I still find out of place in a life defined by work. This will be the 21st year of removing myself from the office for a week.

I find that my awkwardness about taking one week off a year must be learned behavior as my wife and children found and find our annual week off an an unalloyed joy, whereas I find it another task to obtain, until a few days in, where the task shifts to avoiding extreme weight gain via extreme (for a 60 year old) physical activity. This is no burden, it is a New England version of paradise on multiple levels.

My attitude that not working is undeserved and indefensible was learned in a childhood defined by extremities.

But extremities in mid-century were not so extreme: total fealty to a job was expected and rewarded: and absent technology and in the full glow of a century of post-industrial WASP suburban entitlement, taking August off was not a luxury, it was what was done. My father was the lawyer, my mom was the housewife decorator, and they had three kids in Westchester. But unlike other families we did not take vacations.

We belonged to the Ardsley Country Club (pictured above). In theory it was because it had a golf course and my father loved golf. But he never played when I knew him. He loved jazz and never went to a jazz club in my time with him – although his Hudson Line commuter train coursed through Harlem twice every day.

That train brought him home, where he immediately drank himself to bed – sometimes there was some screaming involved. Our weekends were spent doing things – my father not golfing but sorting stamps and coins he collected and chores. Until 5pm. In the summer I was frequently dropped off at “the club” and took dance lessons there with girls wearing white gloves. But athletics, music or “enrichment” weren’t requirements for children, and thus their parents, in mid century Whitelandia.

So we only took two “vacations” during those Augusts in my time with my parents: both involved secondary realities: my Dad visited a client in Florida, with all three kids in the back of a 1959 Cadillac driving all the way down and back – me playing with Matchbox toys on the floor. We also visited upstate New York on the way for my mother to visit her family in Buffalo before her father passed. Both of these happened before I was 6. After that, the club sufficed.

A few Augusts were spent working on a broken down second home in Connecticut (purchased wholesale from the client visited in Florida). Before the second home and around those road trips my father spent August days, versus working day nights, sorting stamps and coins and mowing the lawn. Drinking happened only after 5 but was focused and effective.

It was hard to have friends in a place of life re-ordering to compensate for a drinking life, so I read a lot, watched TV and twice was sent to sleep away camp when I was 8 and 9. I loved it – it was hard fun, but it was fun. But somehow my parents “forgot” to sign me up in subsequent years. I learned that continuity of place and pattern for them were necessary to maintain a semblance of functionality.

So, for me, it took innocents to make vacation a reasonable focus of effort: at 3 and 5 our boys needed a place of memory that was not the familiar pattern of home, school and work – and my wife’s upbringing often centered around cruises and island time – so she took the lead and we found our place.

Our boys are now men, have jobs that prevent joining us, but the pattern persists. Three faxes a day are replaced by wifi 24/7. There is no office time, only a phone call or two, but 6 or 8 employees and 40 or 50 clients are a flow of devotion that is harder to end than accept in a reduced emphasis.

One year, despite extreme programming an employee simply did not execute work that was required – not by me, but by the State of New York: so after failure to fax the work that he did not do, the entire week became my job to remotely overcome his firing and execute the complete restructuring of every other schedule in the office to get deadlines met.

That lack of even a slight break meant the next year was definitively compromised in terms of my energy and perspective, caused by 2 years with no break. That quiet exhaustion showed that my aging reptile brain had rewired itself into expectation. Just like my father.

He had adapted to a lifetime of drinking until incapacity and thence finding a place to maintain his coping – and that place largely prevented vacations. So the Ardsley Country Club was in the wings, a broken down house needed an upgrade and soon all kids were gone. Continuity triumphed over change – for good or for ill.

Now I seem to have found a continuity of annual change, even without children. I think it is a good thing. I know my wife loves it, and would love other times away. That is not part of my capacity to rationalize, let alone afford.

Puritanism persisted for several centuries, and its essence of personal unworthiness abides in me, perhaps because it was clear to my father that despite worldly success, he had been unworthy of earthly reward. That is an easy legacy to embed, and easier to maintain: not changing takes little energy, if much regret.

Fear of change that comes from a childhood spent maintaining semblences is a hard groove to slip out of. But I seemed to have regrooved for one week a year.

In an hour I mount 2 bikes on the back of our car, then drive for 5 hours due north. There will come a time this stops, but it will not be by choice, that choice was made 21 years ago, and despite walking pneumonia I participated, mostly sleeping, and watched two little boys thrill at newness – a newness I adapted to.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2016 8:37 am

    Another great blog. Duo, I wish you some peace and happiness in your week. Know that many admire your determination and energy, to say nothing of your affection for Trinity Bros. on the corner of Temple and Chapel.

    You deserve your week.



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