Family vacations bring fun, laughter, sibling tension and hives Sunning: Packing several generations up and heading off to a beach house presents a great opportunity for reliving Junes gone by.


IN THE DAYS before a vacation, I usually get the jitters. This year I went all the way and broke out in hives. I'm told this could be caused by some fruit I ate, but I think it was nerves. Had I packed enough washcloths?

The June vacation is the really big one, the one with the baggage that isn't all beach chairs and towels. This installment is number 46 -- the 46th time my father has taken a house and had his children and grandchildren leave Baltimore for a summertime stay on the Delaware shore.

These family vacations are in an entirely different category from the eight-day getaway packages to London. On those, I go with a group of old friends who have their own hotel rooms and keep their own counsel.

At a beach house, with your father, four sisters, a brother, and offspring, it's a different story.

You don't pack for yourself. You have to pack for the whole house, a place that beds in single, double and queen. That means sheets for all size mattresses, because on a family vacation you never know what other guests may show up and need a bed for the night. Room assignments are fluid. Sometimes I get one sleeping spot, but if the visitor traffic is heavy, it's off to another.

Early on the morning of the departure, I called two of my sisters. On one call we fought; on the other we laughed. The principal point of discussion was who had packed the cheese sandwiches for the first day's lunch. I hung up the phone and laughed. At that moment, it dawned on me why I get nervous before leaving Baltimore. The Baltimoreans I know stay in one place and just don't move much. When they do, it's an occasion.

And so, when the vacation arrives, it's predictable -- the same destination, the same house or apartment, the same landlady, the same restaurants, the same boardwalk food. It had better taste the way it did in 1960 or there's going to be trouble.

I guess the reason we insist on a no-change vacation is that we want to return, for a week or so, to a way of life somewhat as it was 40 years ago. Many of the streets in Rehoboth Beach have changed little since my siblings were carried into homes there in wicker baby baskets.

The boardwalk looks pretty much as it did. The sand and the waves certainly never change. And the traffic tie-ups won't go away. No matter what amount of money is put into highway and bridge construction, some red light at a mall outlet always undermines the planned efficiency of the expensive roadwork. In short, even in June, it still takes a good long time to go 114 miles.

It's a week when my family retells stories over and over again. Occasionally, at a safe distance of 25 years, a new version of an old tale surfaces, this time with more truth or accuracy.

There are usually a few temper flare-ups during this week of family togetherness. These boil-overs only demonstrate to me the strengths and passions of sibling ties.

And the week never fails to show what a family is all about. This year, for example, my second youngest sister Nan said there'd be no sunbathing on the Sunday of our week. She'd had twin daughters and was laying claim to that day for the christening.

My reaction during the packing week was practical. Along with the myriad sheet sizes, I remembered to bring a starched white shirt and a tie.

Pub Date: 6/06/98

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