East Coast History, Humidity, Family, and a Flat Tire

Taking the dogs out for a walk our first morning in Massachusetts, I was struck by the fragrance and peaceful beauty of the towering pine trees surrounding us at our new campground. I also had a renewed appreciation for the escort and assistance backing into our narrow campsite after arriving in the dark the night before, thanks to our very first breakdown. I took the dogs for a quick walk with a flashlight, trying not to lose my way back to our site on the winding and narrow campground roads.

That was fun to back into in the dark.
Two roads diverged in a campground…

Once you could see where you were going, the tall trees and narrow roads added charm and a sense of privacy to the campground. Over the next couple days Rita and Charlie played in the pool and game room, and Charlie chatted his way into a bocce ball game while I was with Sky in the dog park nearby. They made friends with three siblings, and Charlie lost another (already loose) tooth. The story is that he bit into a nerf football… details and reasons are fuzzy, but he was thrilled to have an audience for losing the tooth.

It was a nice surprise to have such an attractive and well-run campground to enjoy, since we picked the Boston Minuteman Campground for its proximity to the Minute Man National Historical Park and downtown Boston (plus, the cell tower across the street). Minute Man is a fascinating park, comprised of buildings and sites between the towns of Concord and Lexington where the opening battles of the American Revolution took place in 1775.

A re-enactor at Hartwell Tavern, part of Minute Man NHP

We’ve been listening to the Hamilton cast recording since the beginning of the year and it’s become an integral part of road schooling. Since we’ve been traveling across the US from west to east, Hamilton has been the basis for lessons about the American colonies, revolution, Founding Fathers, slavery and women’s rights. In addition to history, the musical has led to discussions about human relationships, conflicts, and compromises, and how even people on the same side can have profound disagreements and differences in approach (see: Hamilton and Burr). When we finally reached the East Coast we could refer to some of the “characters” and events that were already familiar to the kids.

So, with the knowledge gained from Hamilton, plus watching Schoolhouse Rock’s “Shot Heard Round the World” and “No More Kings”, we were ready for Minute Man. We started at the Visitor Center then headed straight to Hartwell Tavern to participate in a courthouse reenactment and a militia muster. This is the first time we’ve encountered historical re-enactors and they really enhanced the experience, especially for the kids.

The rangers and volunteers were all excellent and impressively stayed in character.
Mustering the militia.
Hartwell Tavern along Battle Road.
The militia and court room re-enactors were also inside Hartwell Tavern to share information and stories about this “witness house” to the Revolution.

After a break for delicious pizza in Concord (I can’t complain about the bugs on the East Coast and not praise the pizza!), our next stop was The Wayside. What makes The Wayside unique compared to other historical houses in the area is that it was the home of three famous literary families over a span of 200 years: Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa; Nathaniel Hawthorne ; and Harriett Lothrop. I’m a fan of Louisa May Alcott, Rita read Little Women, and both kids have watched the 1994 movie. It was a thrill to be in the actual barn where Alcott wrote and performed plays with her sisters. (Next door is the beautifully preserved Orchard House where the Alcott family also lived and where Louisa wrote Little Women. It’s not part of the National Park, but I visited years ago and highly recommend it.)

The beautiful Wayside, which is also part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Bronson Alcott and his family harbored at least one runaway enslaved man.
The barn where Lousia May Alcott wrote and performed plays is now an excellent interpretive center.
Inspiring Rita to actually finish Little Women.

We could have spent days exploring the area, but had to keep moving to get to our ferry reservation to Long Island. After a wonderful opportunity to have breakfast with old friends who were meeting Rita and Charlie for the first time, we took a day trip into Boston for more history and some city life. With a 45-minute drive each way and the dogs left at home, we decided to drive straight to Boston Common (the oldest city park in the US!), use the pricey but convenient underground garage, and walk the Freedom Trail about a mile to the North End. We followed an online map, but there are also information booths at the Common and signs along the way.  

The Massachusetts State House, a masterpiece of Federal architecture from 1789. Notice the smiles; this was at the beginning of our walk.

I love Boston and was excited to be back with Chris and the kids, but the day was hot and we fell into that tourist trap of rushing around in the midday sun, trying to keep our lagging kids interested in the historical sites when they just wanted to sit in the shade and eat ice cream. Things turned around after we had excellent subs at the bustling Pauli’s (recommended by my friends at breakfast). We made it to the picturesque Paul Revere Statue and Old North Church, and on the walk back to the Common we were better able to appreciate the incredible history and constant mix of old and new that makes Boston such a memorable city.

Paul Revere’s house from 1680, the oldest house in downtown Boston.

Paul Revere in front of the Old North Church, where two lanterns (“One if by land, and two if by sea”) were hung as a signal after Revere’s warning.

The Old State House and new office buildings.
We stumbled across the New England Holocaust Memorial, which was very moving. It was dedicated in 1995, and sadly has been vandalized twice this summer.

Our next stop was Middletown, Rhode Island, on the coast just outside Newport. As a kid I was enchanted by Newport’s natural beauty and Gilded Age mansions, and was looking forward to exploring them again with the kids.

The Meadowlark Mobile Home & RV Park was quiet and comfortable, and a reasonable price compared to other campgrounds nearby. We were surprised to find no bathroom or shower facilities, which normally we don’t care about unless we don’t have a sewer hook-up – which we didn’t have here. It wasn’t a big deal, but we had to take extra short showers so we didn’t fill the gray water tank before we could use the dump station on the way out.

Our spot at Meadowlark. It was peaceful, except for the dogs being driven nuts by all the rabbits around.

No bathrooms, but there was a laundry room with this antique dryer that worked surprisingly well.

No bathrooms, but the park did have its own marked cemetery! I looked up Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries and found this was the plot of five members of the Hall family, deceased between 1785 and 1855.

It was an easy 10 minute drive into Newport from the RV park, and we found ample free street parking at King Park beach. We walked a few blocks past the main commercial area of the harbor and down narrow streets with charming old clapboard houses to the nearest mansion. The Elms has a gorgeous combination of formal gardens, sculptures, and spacious lawns open to the public. The kids could have spent all day playing under the magnificent beech trees (which were imported from Europe and planted throughout Newport, and are themselves a focus of preservation now).

Newport Harbor scene

Hamilton reference!

Newport is not all mansions.

Formal gardens at The Elms.

Strolling through The Elms gardens.

Incredible weeping beech tree.

Back side of The Elms.

The hot and humid weather led us to cut our walk short and take a scenic drive along Ocean Avenue then back out of town. We stopped for lunch just across the causeway in Middletown at Flo’s Clam Shack, which has been knocked down by a hurricane and rebuilt more than once since it opened in 1936. Flo’s does not serve typical clam strips, but actual plump and juicy clams that are lightly breaded and fried. They were delicious!

If you like clams, you have to try Flo’s.

I took the kids back into Newport to tour the Vanderbilt mansion The Breakers, the largest and most spectacular of the Gilded Age summer “cottages”. The Preservation Society of Newport offers tours of 11 different properties, and if you have the time it’s much more economical to buy a pass for multiple houses. It may seem that once you’ve seen one Newport mansion you’ve seen them all, but each estate really is unique and has its own interesting history.

I vividly remember visiting The Breakers when I was a kid, and Rita and Charlie were equally impressed. The family self-guided audio tour had enough information to keep it interesting for adults, and the kids were totally engaged during the hour-long tour.

Not a bad place to spend the summer.

Her face says it all. Entering the great hall and taking in all that opulence for the first time.

The kids loved controlling their own audio tour.
Considering solid marble walls for our next house.

The great lawn was made for running.
View from the loggia over the great lawn to the ocean.

The children’s playhouse. Yes, really.

My family spent time pretty much every summer while I was growing up at my grandmother’s cottage (actual cottage, not Newport “cottage”) in South Kingston, RI.  My aunt and uncle who own it now weren’t around when we were in the area, but welcomed us to visit on our own. The drive across Narragansett Bay was beautiful, and it was wonderful to see the house again with Chris and the kids, and to revisit my own warm childhood memories. The last time I was there was with Chris 13 years ago, for a fun family weekend the summer before we moved from New York to Los Angeles.

Rita in the front yard of my grandmother’s cottage.

We spent a couple nights at Bear Creek Campground in Bristol, Connecticut before making our way to New London, where we would take the Cross Sound Ferry to Long Island. We arrived in the middle of a heat wave, and even the shaded areas outside were just too hot. While Chris worked in the RV the kids and I hung out in the office/store, the only air-conditioned public space. The kids were kept occupied by chess and checker tables, and Charlie was driven crazy with temptation by a giant flavored sugar dispenser, the likes of which I had never seen before nor do I wish to see again.

Rita taught Charlie chess after this; I was impressed with their concentration.

Charlie really really really wanted to take $5 from his piggy bank for a giant straw full of flavored sugar. We didn’t let him.

We visited with friends nearby, and had such a great time that Rita and Charlie stayed for a sleepover (and Charlie lost another tooth!), and Chris, Otis, Sky, and I joined them the next night. Our kids and dogs were in heaven playing in the big backyard with the resident kids and dog. (I think Otis and Sky thought we had moved into a dog park; they were so excited to be off leash and play fetch every time we went outside.) Chris and I enjoyed adult conversation, beverages, and laughs with our good friends who we haven’t seen in a couple years.

Otis and the resident dog, Simba.

Perfect slip-n-slide weather and venue.

Enjoying our friends’ beautiful yard.

These four had a blast together.

We decided to park the rig at our friends’ house our last night, and that’s when things got complicated. Just as I arrived at our friends’ house to pick up the kids for lunch with my aunt and cousins, Chris was getting ready to leave the campground and realized that the rig had a flat tire. Evidently it was a slow leak from hitting the curb in Burlington. There were a surprising number of tire shops around, but most were closed on Sunday and the couple that were open did not have the tire we needed. I drove the 40 minutes from our friends’ house to retrieve Chris and the dogs and overnight bags and then back again. My aunt’s house was another 40 minutes away in a different direction. We wanted to keep us all in one place with the car so we would be ready to move if we heard back about the tire. It was really disappointing to have to cancel plans with my aunt and cousins, but we got to see each other on Long Island in the next couple weeks.

Monday morning Chris started calling around again and found a garage that could take us. We were about an hour and a half away from New London and knew we wouldn’t make the 1:00 ferry, but fortunately there were a couple more departures later that day that could accommodate the rig, and no penalty for last minute changes. We re-booked for the 3:00 and crossed our fingers. We said goodbye to our gracious hosts, drove back to the campground, and drove the RV and Explorer to the garage to get the tire replaced.

At the garage in Bristol. In the rain.

I should mention at this point that it was raining, and the drive to the ferry after getting the tire changed was through a steady downpour. I should also mention that it was Chris’ birthday. Not only did he get to drive the RV on a flat tire, through the rain, and onto a ferry for the very first time, but his birthday lunch consisted of the wrong order from McDonald’s, courtesy of his scatterbrained wife. Happy birthday, Chris! We love you!

The RV lined up behind a logging truck.

No room for error in here.

Chris did an awesome job of navigating the rig on and off the ferry. We were all happy to arrive at Orient Point, knowing that our home for the next month was only a few miles away. It was a little strange to be staying at a campground so close to the house where I grew up, but my parents were hosting a lot of guests over the next few weeks, none of whom would be traveling with their own home on wheels, so it worked out well for everyone to use our own space. 

We had a happy reunion with my parents and sister Christine, and a wonderful meal of my Dad’s baked stuffed clams, lobster mac-and-cheese, and a birthday cake for Chris. It was the start of a wonderful month with friends and family on the beautiful North Fork, that somehow went by way too quickly.

Reunited with Aunt Christine and Grandma Denise.

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