Op-ed column: Vacation tradition has gotten lost in America but we need it more than ever

One of my favorite childhood memories is the vacations we took together as a family during the 1970s

One of my favorite childhood memories is the vacations we took together as a family during the 1970s. Most summers we traveled to Ogunquit, Maine, and rented the same cottage for one week or, when we were lucky, for two weeks.

“A lot of people don’t take vacations,” my dad would say. “You’re lucky to go on one.”

I knew he was right. Most of my friends never went on family vacations. When their fathers took a week off, my friends would usually stay around the house and watch their father paint or do some other household project.

I loved packing up the car, deciding what book I’d read on vacation, and enjoying only my family for an entire week. Since we normally did the same thing every summer, our family had vacation traditions. We’d get up on Saturday morning and leave before 6 a.m. to beat the crowds. When we arrived at the cottage, usually around noon, we’d eat a quick lunch, unpack our bathing suits and then get back in the car and drive the five miles to Moody Beach just south of Wells, Maine. We’d stay on the beach till after 5. It always seemed to get cold and breezy after 5, and we’d drive to Congdon’s on Route 1 and order a dinner of fried clams, onion rings and soda.

On Sunday we’d all read The Boston Globe at breakfast and then go to the beach early and stay all day. At night we’d walk the Marginal Way and eat dinner at Perkins Cove. We’d shop at the same stores every year. I remember Ogunquit had a very good bookstore. One night we’d walk around York, Maine, and another afternoon we’d go to Boston, eat dinner at Durgin Park and then go to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. We’d always sit in the bleachers.

First in, last out

My dad was a hard-working person who liked to brag that he was always the first in the office and the last to leave, but he knew how to vacation. He never once thought of work while we were in Maine. He never made a call to the office.

“No one knows where we are right now,” he’d often say on evenings when we’d be walking on the dark streets that led from Perkins Cove to the shopping district in Ogunquit, where we had parked our car. He didn’t care about work on those evenings. The people he cared about were the family members with him at that moment.

It seems that many Americans today have forgotten the importance of taking a vacation. According to an organization called Take Back Your Time, we’re one of the worst nations in the world at relaxing. Only 14 percent of us get a vacation of two weeks or longer. One-third of American women and one-fourth American men don’t take any leave at all. Our country is way down the list of the average number of vacation days with 13, compared to Italy with 42. Even Canada and Japan average 26 days. Australians have four weeks of vacation by law. What’s our problem?

My dad worked hard until the day he retired in the late 1980s, but when he left the office, it didn’t exist. He came home and enjoyed his family, and that was it. He never talked about work.

How many of us can do this anymore? With the advent of cellphones and e-mail, it seems work is always with us. When my dad worked, I knew he’d always leave for about an hour and eat lunch with some of his co-workers, but today 32 percent of us eat lunch and work at the same time, sometimes right in front of a computer screen. We need vacations now more than ever, especially since the average worker is putting in more hours than workers in the 1950s.

Vacation education

My wife and I live for vacations. This year we spent two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, just the two of us, hiking, sea kayaking, biking, reading, exploring and just plain having fun with each other. There isn’t anything more important for our relationship and for our psychological well-being.

When I travel, I learn. I meet people from different regions and different countries. I experience things, and my life is always richer because of it. We spent quite a bit of time in British Columbia this August and had some wonderful conversations with people from Canada, Scotland and Germany. We talked about politics, health care, our countries, our families, and it reminded me once again how small our world really is. When you travel, you learn firsthand that you and your concerns are not the center of the world. You discover how similar we all are.

I’m aware that I’m one of the lucky ones with vacation time. I know there are many Americans afraid to take vacations for fear they will be replaced. There are many Americans who get no vacation at all, and many of us can’t afford to take vacations.

My parents were comfortable but not rich. We never did anything extravagant on our vacations, and they saved up all year to take those trips to Maine. I’m so glad we went, because those are the childhood memories I cherish more than anything else.

My wife and I are similar to my parents. We don’t buy expensive new cars every few years. We don’t live in a big, glamorous house or go out to eat frequently. But we will continue to save every year for a vacation because we know how important it is for us.

Jack Rightmyer lives in Burnt Hills. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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