Today I took my children on a time honored journey - the run to town to get a few necessities - but the purpose was far from ordinary and the merchants visited were far from Wal-Mart. Not that the Cranberry Highway in Wareham is not one endless sea of sprawl from ticky tacky taffy stalls to box stores of every persuasion, but we needed minnow traps, child's life preservers, a snorkel, a kite and a clam rake, and I would not know where to begin to look for these things in a cavernous warehouse. Nor did I have any interest in paying dive shop prices for something they will outgrow in a few short summers but need now.
So we went instead to two places along the strip that have been in operation since before I was a child and went on similar trips to town with my Dad. The first of these is an Army/Navy store called Bananas, with two anthropomorphic apes in G.I. helmet and naval togs smooching on the signpost and a huge, yellow "practice bomb" mounted prominently by the roadside. It is heavy on the military surplus side, unlike others of its ilk where the only "navy" in evidence is "Old Navy" and it looks like nothing more than L.L. Beans lite inside. Bananas is the place you go if you need camouflage netting, or a canteen, or a pair of wool pants from the German army waist size 30, or a gas mask, or a pith helmet, or an inflatable life raft. It is also a great place to get children's flotation devices at $7.99 and minnow traps at under 10. It is a bit scary, a bit alluring, and full of boxes of military bric- brac to explore and cool survival gear to discover. Elias found a basket of tumbled quartz and amethyst stones incongruously placed next to a box of combat infantry badges, which is good training for when he starts going to flea markets.
The next stop was Benny's, a local establishment that began as a chain of automotive supply stores but around here was always the place to get fishing rods, matchbox cars, lawn chairs, Big Wheels, and Red Sox Jerseys. "The House of Benjamin" sign is red with white, cursive script letters, echoing that other more famous New England icon, Friendly's. We quickly found our kite and clam rake, but not the snorkel, and managed to leave without a basket full of Barbies -forbidden fruit in our household- or baseball gloves.
The snorkel, turned up in the barn back at Windrock, in and among diving gear I used in my teens. This afternoon if it is not too windy, Emily my newly minted swimmer will get to discover the world beneath the waves.
Expeditions with children have a pace of their own. You cannot rush the experience or the journey. I can recall magical days with my Great Uncle Dayt when he would suggest we do a bit of fishing and the next few hours would be consumed digging out the bamboo poles from the rafters of the garage and finding hook, line and sinkers for each; walking down the beach to the salt marsh at Widow's Cove to collect fiddler crabs for bait, then paddling out to the breakwater as the tide came in and perching on the rocks with the seaweed swirling in hopes of landing tautaug. Uncle Dayt was adept at passing off his pole "just for a second" to the youngest great-nephew on the rocks without betraying that he had a fish on the line and providing them with the thrill of the catch. I caught my first tautaug - a nine-pounder - in this fashion.
Tomorrow we are going to drive down Cape and go whale watching off Stellwagen bank. Emily is very excited but has recently been interested in the Titanic and is fully prepared to have to swim for it. Elias is not at all sure that the fat-bellied charter boat we will board will be seaworthy and we are spending much of today talking about what it will be like to go out on the water and see humpbacks feeding alongside. It is a good thing his sister has not read Moby Dick or I'd never get him in the boat. It is quite possible that he will quail at the gangway and we will choose to delay this pleasure and find new and more secure adventures along the dunes of the National Seashore. With children and new experiences, it is best to follow their leads, and often unforeseen adventures and discoveries present themselves when you let go of preconceived plans.