Some people divide the world into tall and short, fat and skinny, even (so it is said) quiche-eating and quiche-abstaining. These distinctions are trivial. There are two great classes: the active and the passive vacationers.
I have friends whose vacation ideal is strenuous self-improvement--the long-distance cruise, mountain-climbing, listening to music or even, heaven help them, camping.
I prefer the surpriseless vacation, as void of novelty as a fictional best-seller. So for years past numbering, we have come to this lovely, sun-drenched place where the village fathers take a squinty view of innovation and where the only new sound is the faint repetitive melody of the Ms. Pac-Man machines at the Yacht Club down the street.
We come at the same time, with the same friends, stay at the same cottage, see the same people and do--or, more important, decline to do--the same things, year after year.
The menu, depending on the strength of the bluefish run, is 98 percent predictable, down to the triviality of the midday corned-beef sandwich. This wretched substance would give dyspepsia to a robot if ingested more than 500 yards from the sea. With salt air and beer, and a dill pickle or two, it is ambrosia. But the real point is that we have eaten corned beef for lunch for 20 years.
There are, for all we do to avoid them, occasional surprises. Last year's, now embedded in the annals, was the great nor'easter, a nasty storm that strayed from its usual anchorage on Hatteras, or Nantucket, and blew chill winds and rain at us for five days. Usually, St. Petersburg, Fla., where a local paper gives itself away on rainy days, has nothing on Wrightsville. Nor'easters, the natives say, come about every 30 years.
This year's major surprise was a discovery: the delights of not sailing. We had left one sailboat behind. Our son would bring it, we told ourselves, when he finished a summer job and joined us. The other boat, which our friends had brought well over 400 miles, lay unlaunched. It lay unlaunched for days. Then we leveled with ourselves. How pleasant it was to miss the traditional mid-afternoon pleasures of sailing!
For novelty, there were the gravity- inversion boots. Yes! Our friends had bought them--so they claimed--to treat Aunt Martha's back, whose suppleness is not what it used to be. So, as you might imagine, one or another member of the household was often to be seen, at odd hours, absurdly dangling like a weary bat from a door- frame. But this dreadful Hollywood- bred innovation will pass.
We are not quite so torpid as this may suggest. Among creatures of habit, however mellowed out, the grueling runs in the late-afternoon sun could not be avoided. Otherwise, the pre-dinner rum and tonic would lie less easy on the middle-age conscience.
But to those who go on exciting, adventurous and instructive vacations, this portrait of indolence must be appalling. What could be the point of it?
One point is to extinguish volition, to silence that little nagging voice advocating activity, to flirt briefly with the oriental lure of Nirvana, to consider the sea oats, the tides, the hues of sea and sky.
Another point, surely the greater, is the perfection of a friendship that grows year after year with the inexhaustible conversations among friends that need have no secrets. The usual concealments are not practiced; everyone's quirks are known. Sometimes even the best of friends, or those who think they are, find common vacations disastrous, giving way to restless silences.
With us, it has been blessedly different. On this annual retreat, with the affairs of alleged moment far away, we watch children and godchildren grow from stage to stage and muse endlessly on books, parents, friends, fortunes and the curious twists and turns of self-recognition.
There, we find change enough. That is one reason for giving thanks that this time of year, at this well-beloved corner of the great sea, changes not at all.