Cape Cod RV Park Regular Recounts Many Happy Days
Threads of sunlight glisten on the waves and tendrils of sea grass bristle with salty gusts at Ocean View RV Park in Dennis Port, Mass.
On the beach, a clutter of RVs is arranged in diagonals like dominoes, many offering semblances of suburbia: picket fences, bird houses, United States flags batting at the breeze.
Nestled in the midst of all this is a little white cottage with blue shutters. Out front sits 95-year-old Mahlon Walker, baseball cap shadowing his cloudy blue eyes, sun-spotted hands clasped in his lap, according to the Boston Globe.
He's been coming here, to this oceanside campground for nearly three-quarters of a century.
"I've been happy here all the years," he said, smiling under the shade of a blue umbrella, the husk of age in his voice. "Everybody goes by, they notice I'm here, they know me."
For some, familiarity might breed contempt, or more likely boredom.
But not for Walker. The 30-year retiree, twice-widowed and making a slow creep to centenarian status, long ago settled on his preferred retreat: a campground along the mid-Cape.
"Mr. Walker is the record-holder," noted Tom Moss, property manager of Ocean View RV Park, which, until this year, was Grindell's Ocean View Park.
Since around 1941 — his best estimation, as the exact year has faded from memory — Walker has made the 40-mile trek with his family from his Plymouth home every summer and fall with dedication. Starting out with a cramped umbrella tent 68 years ago, he soon upgraded, and has since worked through a half-dozen campers.
Now, even as he has moved into assisted living, relies on a walker, and given up driving and swimming, he comes nearly every weekend, these days staying in a tiny, pine-board cottage. This year, he plans to keep up his visits until mid-October.
And when he can't get there, "he pouts," his daughter, Janet Cann, who's spent just about every summer here right along with him, said with a laugh.
There's really no profound reason for the draw of this spot. Mostly, it's the comfort of familiarity; the friendships formed against the backdrop of the Atlantic and comprising decade upon decade of sandcastles, cookouts, ice cream socials, rounds of cribbage and golf, sailboat races, and baseball games crackling on the radio. The warmer water, the cooler air, the seafood – they're all perks, too, Walker said.
And even as time has sped forward, the camp has maintained a nostalgic, old-time neighborhood ambience, he said. The same people have been coming for years, and they all watch out for one another. .. Their kids play together. Their grandkids, too.
He remembers the days when camp owners did grocery runs and announced mail deliveries over loudspeakers.
As a young dad, he also found quick popularity; when he was running his company, Sears Fuel, he was known as "the beach handyman," on account of the tools piled up in his trunk.
"We're all a family," he explained as he sat on his cottage porch, Cann nearby, occasionally prompting his memory and repeating unheard questions for him. "It's an old-fashioned feel that's gone in a lot of places."
As is the case with many other things. In his 95 years, Walker has seen a whirlwind of changes.
Since his birth at the start of the first World War, in 1914, he's been through 17 presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. He's owned about 10 cars — most of them Cadillacs — starting with a 1927 Ford Model A.
Health-wise, he's survived two heart valve replacements and an ulcer. He's a pater familias, too: In addition to his two children and five grandchildren, he has four stepchildren, three step-grandchildren, five step-great-grandchildren, and two step great-great-grandchildren.
Similarly, he's watched highways grow up into patchworks; he's benefited from medical advances, and marveled at sweeping technological changes. "I had one of the first televisions," he said, putting his wrinkled pointer fingers and thumbs together in a square the size of a postcard. "It was like this."
As for his favored hideaway, he remembers how it looked before the voracious tide consumed more than 100 feet of sand (his estimation), when dirt roads were the only way to get around, and when there were just undisturbed marshes and long ribbons of beaches without a continuous tumble of grandiose summer houses, restaurants, and shopping centers.
He also recalls how, once, it was a plentiful pine grove. "This was all trees," he explained, sweeping his arm around. But with Hurricane Carol in 1954, water roared in, pulling mobile homes into the sea, sinking cottages into the sand, and tearing trees down like the giant hands of a farmer weeding a garden.
Ultimately, "the passage of time has been very quick," said Walker, who keeps busy these days with the Rotary Club of Plymouth, the Masons, and hospital volunteer work.
Also, "he socializes," his daughter said. "That's one of his biggest hobbies."
But despite his age, he's no Luddite: He has a cellphone, three e-mail addresses, does online banking – and even has a Facebook page.
In the end, his insights into living a long life are simple: Watch what you eat, stay active, keep hobbies, do what you love, and be courteous and friendly.
Also, he keeps true to a bit of advice he gleaned from a doctor when he had an ulcer back in 1940: "Be concerned, but don't worry," he recounted.
Still, Walker seems as astonished about his longevity as anybody else. "Somebody asked me how I do it – I don't know," he said, shrugging.
"I enjoy living. I look forward to every day."