Last month I visited Plymouth Rock.

It’s a rock.

My opportunity to see that famous bit of Americana came about when I was invited to spend a weekend-long celebration with a friend’s family in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Such summer holiday gatherings were truly special when I was growing up. On virtually every Memorial Day, July 4th,and Labor Day our entire family, which included my two siblings and our parents, 14 cousins, seven aunts and uncles, and three living grandparents, would gather for a day chock full of fun and (for the most part) wholesome activities. There was never any shortage of outdoor games. Wiffle ball, football, hide ‘n seek, badminton, “Tag,” and horseshoes were all options. Perhaps it’s just selective childhood memory, but I honestly cannot remember even one rainy family holiday get-together.

In those casually sexist days someone’s dad was always at the grill. Moms manned the kitchen, prepping hot dogs and hamburgers, tossing salads, slicing fruit, and facilitating peace talks between children with the colossal temerity to do their bickering indoors. (Adult males settled outdoor disputes, but their method of negotiation generally began and ended with, “Knock it off, or else!”) Perhaps most special for my brother, my sister, and I on these occasions: a large ice chest filled with 10-cent, 12-ounce cans of soda, a much-desired beverage that was totally unavailable to us on non-holidays.

On Jan. 1, 1971 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (UMHA), which created numerous three-day national holiday weekends, went into effect. Until then America’s only national Monday holiday was Labor Day. Memorial Day had always been May 30, and Independence Day, which back then was universally referred to as the Fourth of July, always fell, oddly enough, on July 4.

In those days nothing was more frustrating for kids than years when Memorial Day or Washington’s Birthday (Feb. 22) fell on a Saturday or Sunday, depriving America’s youth of a day off from school we saw as rightfully ours. Historical note: prior to the UMHA, which also created President’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday (Feb. 12) was a national holiday, but it generally fell during a scheduled school vacation, so there wasn’t any outrage when it occurred on a weekend.

Another feature of those magic summer holidays that’s all but disappeared: seed-spitting. Nothing was more gratifying to an immature pre-teenage boy (a redundancy if there ever was one) than seeing a sibling or cousin walking around all afternoon, unaware of the watermelon seed clinging to his or her face or neck. And that delight multiplied exponentially if the enjoyer knew for certain it was he himself who had ptui-ed that particular seed into place. But sadly, seed fights have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. Nowadays the only thing rarer than a parent willing to allow his or her offspring to engage in such unsanitary rituals is the availability of watermelons with seeds in them.

Those long-ago, carefree days came to mind again last month in Plymouth. The similarities between my friend’s family and mine were abundant: their celebration was a multi-generational gathering of enthusiastic game players and venerable, garrulous types skilled at the art of relating various bits of family lore. The only difference between this gathering and the ones of my childhood were the ages of the attendees (all were younger than me, save for the grandparents), and the absence of seeded watermelon and ten-cent cans of soda.

The raucous activities went on well into Saturday night, but I was up early Sunday for my customary morning stroll. As I approached downtown Plymouth I began seeing signs trumpeting the nearness of the famous stone marking the place where the Pilgrims allegedly disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620. Imagine my exultation when, after a lengthy, sweaty hike of four miles or so, I approached a granite gazebo, looked inside, and saw…..a rock.

And not even a big rock! If I sat on it (which I could not, as it is surrounded by sturdy-looking metal bars), not only would my feet have touched the ground, I’d have had to bend my knees. I expected at the very least a boulder the size of a Winnebago, but this thing could probably fit in the back of a Jeep Wagoneer. However, while Plymouth Rock is at least as underwhelming as some more notorious tourist traps, arriving there on foot at 8 a.m. on a Sunday to glance at it is significantly more economical (and far less stressful) than finding parking, overpaying for it, and subsequently forking over the inflated price of admission to Graceland, Niagara Falls, or any wax museum you can name.

But be forewarned about Plymouth Rock.

It’s still just a rock.

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