Brand building through storytelling

Away from it all

Think of the events that tell you’ve grown up, and certain obvious ones leap to mind. Getting a degree. Settling down with a significant other. Becoming a parent. Let me add one more—planning a vacation. No other act proves so conclusively that you have urgent responsibilities from which, for a blessed week or two, it is essential to escape.

When my husband and I set out to rent a getwaway spot in Maine one long-ago summer, we pictured ourselves eating fresh-caught lobster on a screened porch overlooking the ocean. We could almost hear the soothing clamor of the waterbirds, almost smell the salt breeze. Actually, I was the one who picked the place from a pamphlet supplied by the tourist authorities (this happened long before the Internet). “Rustic charm on the water!” it promised. I rang the owner right away, full of questions about the cottage.

“Well, it’s really a dome,” said a blithe-voiced woman. “My husband and I built it ourselves. It was our first home together.” Was there a porch? “You’ll love our deck! It overlooks the stream!” What, no ocean? “It’s in the woods. You won’t believe the peace and quiet.” Okay, so I’d expected something different. But what could be more romantic than a newlyweds’ hideaway in the trees? (Our son would not be joining us in Maine.) When my husband worried that the dome might be too small, I reminded him that a family had once lived there. We rented the place—and prepaid every cent.

At the end of a rutted dirt road, we found our dome on the edge of a fetid swamp abuzz with mosquitoes. (So much for dinner on the deck.) It was just the right size for a couple of elves. The living room furniture consisted of a wobbly wicker table and two bucket chairs that competed for the light from a single naked bulb. “There’s nowhere to read,” Paul said. (Mercifully, he didn’t add, “I told you so.”) Then he picked up our bags (both laden with vacation reading) and announced that we were leaving.

“We’ve paid for this place!” I protested, mindful of our mortgage and car loan. For what we’d spent on the dome, we could have had our teeth checked, our eavestroughs cleaned and all our old shoes resoled. But as we started up the coast, with the tape deck blasting The Beach Boys, it struck me that our holiday was no time for prudence; that’s what everyday life is about. For once, I surrendered to recklessness.

If you live by plans and lists, as so many of us grown-ups do, the joy of meandering can be a revelation. For the rest of that week, all we did was meander. Since we had no guidebook crammed with must-see attractions, we just followed road signs that looked promising.

Our discoveries ranged from the eccentric (the gift shop in the Maine State Prison, which specializes in inmates’ woodwork and is the place to go for lamps shaped like covered wagons) to the heart-stoppingly beautiful (Acadia National Park). We slept on a vibrating mattress in a highway motel with fake paneling on the walls, and in a lace-bedecked four-poster at a country inn. We drove all the way to Machias, where we feasted or peanuts at Helen’s, a diner justly famous for its homemade blueberry pie. But what made that trip a winner wasn’t really what we did. It’s how we lived, cut loose from the tyranny of obligation.

Our next summer vacation is about to begin, and we’ll be avoiding “rustic charm.” We’ve studied the guidebooks, planned our route, even made a few dinner reservations at places where you can’t just drift in wearing jeans. But if we’re lucky, we’ll still manage to end up somewhere unexpected, awestruck by the gift of serendipity. You’re never too old for that.

First published in Chatelaine July, 1998. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing.


Posted by Rona

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