I have just returned from a delightful family vacation in California. My 90th birthday occurred in the middle of the month; that was sufficient excuse for us to justify an extravagant experience. It was the first time we have all been together in several years, and the opportunity was greatly appreciated by all.
The venue was the Seven Coves Resort in Carmel Highlands, right on the ocean about three miles south of Carmel-on-the Sea, at the northern end of Big Sur. The lodge has an interesting history. Thirty years ago many scenes from the movie “Basic Instinct” were filmed with it as the set. We had a great time matching YouTube episodes from the movie with the actual rooms in the lodge.
More recently the lodge was the summer home of adventurer Steve Fossett, famous for circumnavigating the globe in a balloon and, separately, in an aircraft without refueling. My son-in-law Mike, who is a private pilot himself, was in St. Louis when Fossett took off from Busch Stadium on one of his attempts, and has a souvenir from that expedition.
Fossett holds numerous records in long-distance sailing as well as in aviation. He died in 2007 when the small plane he was piloting crashed into a mountain near Yosemite Park. Despite a massive search effort, the remains of the plane and its pilot were not located until a year later.
When his property became available, it was acquired by the owner of four luxurious cottages adjacent to it, to serve as the focal point of the resort. Its grounds are spectacular, situated on cliffs about one hundred feet above the ocean on a point with magnificent views in all directions. We greatly enjoyed the lodge’s swimming pool, hot tubs, outdoor fire pits, exercise machines, etc., as well as its spacious dining areas.
The house directly north of the lodge also has a claim to fame. It was the locale for the first movie Clint Eastwood directed – “Play Misty for Me”. My son-in-law Jim quickly recognized the deck overlooking the ocean which plays a pivotal role in the film, visible from the lodge.
Our family enjoys board games. A few years ago we had a great time trying to escape successfully from “Forbidden Island”, a board game with its own unique concept. It is a cooperative game requiring all four players to work together to salvage four treasures before the island sinks into the ocean. Despite the best efforts of dedicated, highly intelligent gamers, we lost the first three times we played it this year.
Twice the entire island was inundated, drowning all of us. A third time, the helicopter port that we needed to make our escape was flooded before we could make our getaway. The fourth time we played, the combination of our superior strategy and the luck of the draw enabled us to collect all the treasures, get to the heliport, and escape successfully.
We enjoyed “Forbidden Island” so much that my McCance grandchildren combined to give me a companion game, “Forbidden Desert”. We are looking forward to christening it by locating the necessary components for an ancient solar powered “flying machine” before we are destroyed by sandstorms and/or dehydration.
Another favorite game is “Sheriff of Nottingham”. It too has a unique concept. The players appear to be merchants coming to Nottingham to sell their commodities. In reality they are potential smugglers, trying to bring in contraband to sell at the market. Their success or failure depends upon their ability to bluff the Sheriff. My inherent naiveté makes me an ineffective Sheriff when it is my turn. Similarly my inherent honesty makes me an ineffective smuggler.
My grandson Ian has just completed his Freshman year at the University of Colorado. He and my son John waged a classic battle for supremacy on the Backgammon board; it is not clear who triumphed.
John’s eight-year-old daughter, Lai An, has been sequestered since the beginning of the pandemic. Watching her interface with her four cousins was a real treat. She seemed to forge the strongest bond with her thirteen-year-old cousin, Claire.
The highlight of the vacation, of course, was my ninetieth birthday. It was celebrated royally. At my request, my daughter Elizabeth baked my all-time favorite, a peach pie. Lai An supervised the preparation of a German chocolate cake, also a favorite of mine, with a lot of help from Nora, now sixteen years old.
Fortunately for all of us, Rachael (seventeen) had brought her violin with us on vacation. In my honor, she performed the first two movements of Mozart’s First Violin Concerto, beautifully. She continues to amaze me with her mastery of the instrument.
Our family is filled with people who love to read. Since we were in Steinbeck country, my daughter Sara suggested we read “Of Mice and Men” aloud, and brought along enough copies for all of us to share. It was an extremely moving experience, particularly since we had just visited the Steinbeck Museum in Salinas (subject for a future column). Reading along while someone else is reading a novel aloud provides an enhanced perception of the text.
Day trips to Roaring Camp to ride the scenic railway there (another future column topic), the Monterrey Aquarium, Point Lobos Nature Preserve, the Farmers’ Market in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the Steinbeck Museum were added enhancements to our stay at Seven Coves.
Spending a week with the most important people in my world in a luxurious lodge surrounded by spectacular scenery was a wonderful experience. Nonetheless I must revert back to the platitude on the framed century-old sampler in my dining room – “East, west, home’s best!”