My parents were not the resort type. While my dad had his yacht, we never took vacations together in the official sense. Sure, we went places, but never for the purpose of a vacation. Vacations sort of became distractions to the main purpose of travel, which was either business or tragedy. When my mother's childhood friend and cousin Grace died in Florida, we went to see her grave... and visited Disneyworld. This was before the Epcot center, and I haven't been there since. We went to New York City to look at and possibly buy a car (we were successful in both endeavors). It was always mentioned under my parents' breath that I was the reason we never went really anywhere, and I was very obviously the third wheel in a relationship where the assumption was the marriage probably would have gone better had I not been born, but it's not polite to actually say that, and what's done is done, right?
The Homestead was one of the first times I was on my own for a while. I don't recall when we went, but it was a year or so after the original "Freaky Friday" with Barbara Harris, Jodie Foster, and John Astin, so I am pegging this at 1978 because that was two years after and probably my parent's 20th anniversary. I would have been nine going on ten. Why I remember that order will be explained later.
There was a long drive from McLean to Homestead. And a fight of some kind. My mother had just started her heavy drinking in my life, and the fights were becoming more frequent. I don't recall what the fight was about, and nobody was actually drinking, but I recall feeing so trapped in the back seat of my father's 66 T-Bird while my mother's cutting comments made my father react. I can still remember how those hard, black vinyl seats felt. Lap belts only. "Relax honey... oh-KAY! Hah hah hah o-KAY, relax!" was my father's rebuttal to pretty much everything.
It was explained to me that the Homestead was for very affluent folk, and that I was required to be in a suit at all times. This did not actually meet with experience, but it was only for three days. It also meant that I had a room of my own. I was told, as a kid, this was due to an occupancy limit, and the fact I had my own room at such a young age was not their idea, but I would have to live with it. This seemed like a GREAT thing to me, but I pretended to be scared because it fit the atmosphere of the discussion. Fear = respect, I suppose. I can see my father now, if I said that to him. "Of course it does." "People don't respect Hitler," I would say. "Hah hah hah hah! O-KAY!" my father would counter dismissively. Anyway, I got my own room.
And I was alone most of the time. I saw my parents in two places that weekend: their anniversary dinner and some fake beach area. Their room was right next to mine, but I didn't dare disturb them. Looking back on it, I am sure it was one of those "re-kindle our honeymoon feelings" sort of thing. I doubt it worked.
The anniversary dinner was nice, my father actually got a violinist to come to our table, and there was some small cake afterwards. Nobody fought, but I was so terrified of getting food on my suit, I barely ate. Not that I wanted to eat anyway. I was so fussy, and so picky as a child, that I am sure if one were to list the foods I ate until age 15, it would count for less than 20 items. Everything else was icky or gross. I was a control freak, too. Like even if it was the food I ate, if it looked funny, forget it. One of the things I always complained about was really fancy restaurants had "kids menus" that were obviously written by someone who never studied what a kid ate. I always pictured this kind of conversation:
Manager: We need to put macaroni and cheese on our kids menu.
Chef (trained in 50 classic styles): And what sort of thing is Macaronian Cheese? Italian?
Manager: It's macaroni noodles in a cheese sauce.
Chef: Oh, of course. What kind of cheese?
Manager: I... I am not sure. Orange in color.
Chef: That would probably be Cheddar. Or Leicester?
Manager: I don't know, my nanny always made me eat salad. Can you make it?
Chef: I can make anything! I was trained in Florence, Castille, and Paris! I will have it ready in, how do you say it, "a jiffy?"
Chef (to assistant): Manuel? Come here. I need you to make a special dish!
Manuel: Yes, sir.
Chef: It is an orange noodle dish. Do we have elbow macaroni?
Manuel: No sir. We have small ziti, however. We have it in barely, wheat, and spinach.
Chef: Children like spinach! I watched Popeye cartoon as a small child, and it is what children eat to grow handsome and strong. Get the spinach ziti. Now... an orange cheese...
Manuel: We have some Shropshire Blue in the cheesy pantry. That's orange.
Chef: Shropshire Blue is really a Stilton, but the blue veins will complement nicely with the spinach ziti. But it does have a rather strong flavor, we need to complement it with something to enhance the tang of the cheese without overpowering the eater with the smell.
Manuel: I have never cooked with a Stilton, it doesn't melt very well.
Chef: Is macaronian cheese served hot?
Manuel: I don't know, sir. I would assume not because even a Leicester or Cheddar doesn't lend itself to sauces very well.
Chef: Hrmmm. Good point. Okay, being a cold pasta dish, let's start with the common vinegar salad base, and add the cheese as crumbles?
Manuel: That's not a cheese sauce, however, is it?
Chef: No, but I fear what a hot dish of this type would look like. Not appealing at all...
Manuel: How about this. We make a lovely portabello alfredo, and put the Shropshire on the side?
Chef: Hmmm... I think this will work. Prepare it at once!
That might explain the macaroni and cheese I got: cold, green, and smelling like feet and basil with a wedge of cheese on the side, almost like a sign that said, "There be cheese in this dish." I think since then, especially in the 1990s, fancy restaurants have been better about such things. But there were a few times when restaurants tried hard, and I fully believe they did what they could, to make a hamburger. The familiar round shape and the chopped meat gave way to a cube steak pannini on breadcrust end pieces. I can almost picture some chef in the kitchen so outraged to make such a common request getting back in such a passive aggressive manner. "THIS represents the common FILTH you requested!" As I have gotten older, I question taking children to such places at all; I don't know why my parents did it, and one of my friends, cheesy_reads with her 4 kids, usually asks ahead of time, "what do you have for kids these ages?"
Anyway, the second time was at some "beach" which was really an area of sand in front of a large pond. It was cold, wet, and damp outside. I played in the sand some, but was more interested in the "ice cream buffet" they had. I had never seen such a thing before, and I was fascinated by the huge pot of caramel being heated by a sterno. It was all about toppings for me, and two trips from the buffet had more toppings than ice cream, I assure you. Funny to think that some 20 years later, I would be working for a company that used ice cream buffets to deliver bad news. When I would go to these buffets, I would have memories of The Homestead, the cold drizzle on the wet sand, and how the damp tablecloth clung to everything.
I was totally bored the rest of the time. I brought three books, and I was done with them the first night. There was no TV in the room, and outside was drizzly and dull. The maid scared me. She wasn't mean, I was just not used to a stranger coming in my room and straightening everything. She was an older lady, and told me children being alone here wasn't uncommon, and not to worry. She told me there had a theater downstairs, and maybe I could see a movie.
I wandered downstairs and saw two movies: Freaky Friday and "Mister Roberts," a comedy from the 50s about some ship where an insane captain has a palm tree that gets tossed overboard. That's all I recall about the film. All the other movies were totally not anything I would have ever wanted to see.
We went home, and my parents were not fighting. Maybe they had sex that weekend, who knows.
I distinctly remember that my father did not celebrate their 25th anniversary. My mother claimed my father was punishing her for her alcoholism, so she responded to by getting rip-roaring drunk.