The last errand, before leaving town, was to drive to the kennel and leave our puppy, a Boston Terrier named Cappy. As Dad was cranking up the engine, the four children and my mother grew silent, at the thought of leaving Cappy. As Dad backed the car out of the driveway, he surveyed five glum faces, abruptly stopped the car, opened his car door, slammed it shut, and returned to the house. He quickly returned to the car, muttering oaths under his breath, and threw the dog leash, bed, food, and bowls into the back of the car. We cheered in unison because Dad had, amazingly, relented and we were taking our puppy with us on our vacation!
[Image Credit: greatdogbreeds.com]
We drove to the North Carolina home of my Grandmother “Mommo” Blair and she traveled with us to Virginia Beach, to the home of my Uncle Bub and Aunt Pat Blair. Their children, David, Ann, and Eddie, were our cousins. As far as I know, this was the only summer that every member of both sides of my family [the Blairs and Van Hoys] gathered together in one place for a week of Summer Family Reunion. I can only imagine how much my Grandfather “Daddah” Van Hoy, a widower, and “Mommo” Blair, a widow, must have enjoyed having all their children and grandchildren together in one place for one week.
Aunt Pat came from a large, closely-knit family and she loved company: When she heard the crunch of gravel on her driveway, as each family vehicle arrived, she raised her arms over her head, screamed in delight, and, with arms extended in front of her, ran out to hug and greet each weary traveler. An excellent cook, the daunting task of feeding seventeen folks did not intimidate her: You could observe her, every morning, in her kitchen: She wore her swim suit and hummed and sang, as she prepared either Meat Loaf, Chicken Salad, or Pimento Cheese for our luncheon sandwiches.
Bub and Pat hosted a total of seventeen family members that summer, in their large house near the beach. They installed a cabaña outside the kitchen, where they set up picnic tables with benches, ice chests, and fans. There, we could seek shelter from the sun, help ourselves to an icy drink, and gather for all our meals. Bub and Pat also installed an outdoor shower, so that we could rinse off the sand, before entering the cabaña or house.
On a typical evening, Uncle Bub prepared fish and “hush-puppies,” Aunt Pat fixed corn on the cob, and Ann made the tossed salad with anchovies. After dinner, the girl cousins made Lemon Pound Cake, drizzled Lemon Glaze over it, and everyone ate it warm. On other evenings, we enjoyed big bowls of ice cream, topped with chocolate syrup. During the evenings, we cousins played endless card games of War and Solitaire.
In spite of the heat, we cousins spent all of the daylight hours out-of-doors. Uncle Bub and Aunt Pat’s Boston Terrier dog, also named Cappy, could swing from branches of the big evergreen tree in the backyard. With his jaw teeth, he grabbed onto a low horizontal branch, pulled backwards, ran forwards, and sailed up in the air, over and over. Sometimes, he jumped up, clamped his jaw teeth onto a vertical branch, and swung his hindquarters, around and around. Unbelievably, Aunt Pat patiently taught him to soulfully whine into her face, on cue: “Maaa-maaa.”
Our family took a brand-new Slip n Slide to the family reunion: Uncle Bub thought it would be “a hoot” to toss their Cappy onto it, rather like rolling a black & white bowling ball down the alley. As you might imagine, Cappy didn’t much like it: wild-eyed, he scrambled to right himself and ran away from his tormentors — but not before he had torn the Slip n Slide to shreds with his claws and rendered it unusable for us disappointed cousins.
[Image Credit: Late B[l]oomer, Sherry Thurner]
When the weather was fine, three generations of family members, in swimsuits, walked the two blocks down to the beach for a morning of fun in the sun, sand, and surf. We Blair kids learned to body-surf that summer. In those days, we knew nothing about the dangers of rip tides and malicious sea creatures. Although I advise children not to do this, I sometimes walked alone to the beach and body-surfed for hours, on a lonely stretch of beach, with no lifeguard in sight. I pitted my strength and wit against the voracity and power of the water. There has never been an adventure more exhausting or exhilarating than surviving those waves, as they violently tumbled and tossed me within their grip, and then, at last, released and deposited me upon the sand, like sea glass, now scrubbed, smooth, and polished.
We cousins were oblivious, also, about the dangers of UVA and UVB sunrays: We were casual about using sunscreen and sun block and, therefore, we got thoroughly sunburned. Before bed, we girl cousins took showers and helped each other slather on the Solarcaine and Noxzema. The girls slept on multiple bunk beds, in one large bedroom, and the boy cousins had their own dormitory. I have vivid memories of sunburn and sand and how it felt to fall asleep, in those bunk beds, under the ceiling fan, as the beach house had no air conditioning. Falling asleep would have been more of a challenge if I had not exhausted myself with play, all day long, with body-surfing and swimming: The strange residual sensation of floating upon water, the soft phantom sound of crashing waves, and the lingering taste and scent of salt-water and air all combined to gently lull me to sleep.
~~~By Margot Blair Payne, August 2011, with thanks for the contributions from my sisters, Susan Blair Hollister and Amy Blair Sweeney.