I’ve mentioned spending summers with my grandparents in Pacific Grove, California. It seemed like I spent several idyllic summers there, but there really weren’t that many.
Only twice did my brother and I spend long vacations with our grandparents. In 1963 we spent a month there, but our mother was with us, so that didn’t really count. In 1964, my brother and I were there by ourselves for a month. In the summer of 1967 we spent a week or two there, but our mother and toddler sister accompanied us. There was a Christmas trip to Pacific Grove also, but since it was too cold to go to the beach then, that didn’t really count.
So really, when I think of spending summers in Pacific Grove, most of my memories come from the summer of 1964, when I was eight and my brother not quite seven.
Our dad drove us from our home in Richland, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. The interstate highway along the Columbia River was under construction, and the drive was long and slow, but we saw lots of waterfalls cascading from the hills above us toward the river.
After spending the night with my dad’s parents in Vancouver, Washington, my brother and I flew all by ourselves from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco. (It wasn’t our first trip on an airplane—we’d flown from Pasco, Washington, to Portland the summer before.) After our solo flight, our grandparents picked us up in San Francisco and drove us to Pacific Grove, about 90 minutes away.
And then we had four weeks on the beach before our grandparents drove us home to Richland.
What was so wonderful about that summer of ’64 was how unstructured and undisciplined our time was. Papa Gene, our grandfather, was strict, but he was away playing golf most days. Nanny Winnie, our grandmother, loved the ocean. She took us to the beach almost every day. Pacific Grove had—and still has—a sheltered cove with a public beach. I’ve been back in recent years, and the stone alcove where Nanny Winnie and her beach buddies sat is still there.
We built sandcastles with ocean moats, wondering why they never lasted from day to day. We swam in the water and body surfed in the waves, though we were supposed to stay where we could touch the bottom. (Sometimes we ventured out farther.) We caught hermit crabs and took them home in our plastic buckets, but even in a pailful of sea water with a little sand and seaweed they died by the next morning.
We stayed on the beach until we were hot, sandy, and cranky, and then we had to trudge the three or four blocks back to our grandparents’ house, with our heavy pails sloshing against our legs on the days we caught hermit crabs.
Back in Richland, things were changing without us. My parents had a second telephone installed—it was so weird to talk to them both at the same time when they called long-distance on Sundays. But what annoyed me the most was the things that changed that they didn’t tell us about—like adding carpet to the stairs to the basement, which was a surprise when I returned. I wanted my world to stay the same while I was gone. Even then, I thought I should be consulted about such things. Or at least informed.
The biggest change was in my mother. I knew she was pregnant when we left, but when we returned in late August, about a week before school started, she had this big round ball in her belly. My sister was born in mid-September 1964, just a few weeks later.
In wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my brother and I had probably been shipped off to our grandparents not for our amusement, but because of my mother’s pregnancy. She had had several miscarriages between 1960 and 1964, and this pregnancy with my sister was not an easy one. Having us gone meant she didn’t have any childcare responsibilities for a month and could rest. And deal with new telephones and carpeted stairs.
I never talked to my parents about why they sent us to stay with our grandparents, but I’m sure that’s why we spent so long in Pacific Grove that summer. But I saw no reason to feel any resentment about being sent away. My parents, my brother, and I all benefited, and I have wonderful memories. Pacific Grove is still one of my favorite places on earth.
What have you realized as an adult about your childhood that you didn’t know then?