In the early 1960s, my parents bought a “summer house” in Brick Township, New Jersey. Any resemblances to that town and the Jersey Shore you might otherwise be familiar with are – no, there are no resemblances, trust me.
To be clear, we were not “summer home” people, financially speaking. Their decision was prompted by two factors:
- My father’s best friend from childhood owned the house next door.
- It cost $7,000, which was, fortunately, the amount they could scrape together in order to avoid a mortgage. My father, an old school Greek who lived through the Depression, avoided debt at all costs, just like he avoided life insurance, which he described as a bad bet against oneself: “They’re betting,” he observed, “that you’re not going to die before you pay it off, and they’re betting that you won’t.” [Note: This is not a viewpoint that I recommend. Sometimes Father Doesn’t Know Best.]
Anyway, the “summer house.” At the time, we lived in an apartment in Queens, and the idea was that, like most people lucky enough to have a summer house, we would go there for, you know, the summer. My mother worked in the public school I attended, so she had summers off, and my father commuted back into NYC during those golden months each year. It was pretty idyllic.
Getting the Most out of Your Investment
While summers were indeed idyllic, winters most definitely were not, nor were fall and spring. Winters, however, were the worst. My mother, an old-school Greek who also lived through the Depression but who came with the added benefit of being a “thrifty” New Englander, could squeeze a nickel (or $7,000) until it screamed for mercy.
In this case, it wasn’t the money screaming for mercy; it was me, and on occasion, my father. My mother was grimly determined to get the most out of their investment. In her mind, that meant spending every.single.weekend at that house. Neither snow, nor sleet, nor the threat of nuclear warfare would stop us from making that trip every Friday evening. The Post Office had nothing on my mother when it came to determination.
Every Friday, around 6:00 pm, we’d pack up the car and head to the house. In the winter, of course, it was invariably freezing when we arrived. The well water would have to run for awhile before it was anywhere close to potable. But, blankets in hand, we’d settle in.
If Friday nights were unpleasant, Sundays were apocalyptic. My mother’s desire to “beat the traffic” outweighed her interest in squeezing every minute of use out of that house. The traffic back to the city, I imagine, probably started in the late afternoon, if it existed at all in the winter, when normal people began returning to their permanent homes. My mother, however, was taking no chances. Every Sunday, we left the house at 11:00 am, when most other people returning to the city were otherwise engaged, “enjoying” their “summer homes” in the dead of winter. Because we were virtually the only vehicle on the road, we’d get back to the city in record time, leaving me long stretches of Sunday afternoons and evenings with absolutely nothing to do.
The Sunday of the Golf Debacle
Now, when my mother said 11:00 am, she meant 11:00 am. Not 11:01, or 11:02, or anything more than 60 seconds beyond when that clock struck 11. One spring Sunday, my father took a stand and defiantly announced that he’d be joining his friends for a round of golf. “You’d bettah be back by 11:00!” my mother warned, her New England accent even stronger than usual, a sure sign of her determination.
As you can probably guess, 11:00 came and went with no sign of my father. Whether he arrived at 11:01, I can’t say, because at 11:00:59, she and I were in the car, in order to ensure that we could “beat the traffic.”
Buying Your Own Summer House
So, if you plan to buy a summer house, and you want to ensure that you beat the traffic, don’t even think about golfing on Sundays. Also, make sure you buy the house next door to your best friend, so he can give you a ride back to the city. ⧉