Winding down our week at the beach….
Growing up, our family would vacation at North Carolina’s Outer Banks – Nags Head, Duck, Avon. My earliest beach memories are of staying at one of the many modest oceanfront motels along Route 12. Typically family owned, weather-worn and showing their age, these accommodations were nondescript at best – but they rated 5 stars to my little brother and me. Come on, we were at the beach. What’s more, we were on the beach! What could be better than that?
I found out a few years later, when our vacation lodging changed to a pop-up Starcraft camper. This made a good thing even better. Not only were we at the beach, we were camping at the beach! Sometimes, if our campsite was close enough to the ocean, we could even hear the crashing of the waves through the screen windows of the camper. I remember walking past the fancy motor homes and hearing the hum of their air conditioners, and wondering why people would want to seal themselves off from the smell of the salt air.
These were wonderful times. My brother and I would stay in the water as much as possible, riding the waves on our canvas rafts until our nipples were worn raw. I suppose there was probably a television in the motel rooms, but I don’t remember watching it. We had no tv or air conditioning in the camper, so it wasn’t much of a refuge, apart from shading us from the sun, and we weren’t interested in being shaded. This was the 1970’s, after all, and stores sold a lot more baby oil than sun block. We would compete to see who looked the most Indian-like at the end of the week.
Fishing was another favorite activity, especially as I started to get a bit older. I worked hard to emulate the studied yet casual pose of my Dad and my Granddaddy C., holding my surf rod with one hand, with the butt of the rod resting on my hip, tracing with squinting eyes the clear monofilament line as it left the tip of my rod and disappeared into the ocean past the breakers. I learned to tell the difference between the sharp tug of a fish on the line and the gentle pull of the current against my rig. I learned how to clean what I caught, and reveled in the morbid fascination of little kids as they would watch me go through the process of turning fish into fillet. The year that my Dad took me deep-sea fishing and someone on the dock mistook me for a deck hand had me flying high for days.
My brother and I would collect other prizes from the sea as well – shells, skate egg cases, jagged tails from horseshoe crabs. One year I made a special find that stayed in my room for several years – an old liquor bottle that still had its screw-on cap. I filled it with worn sea-glass, colorful shells and ocean water and pretended that the colorful kaleidoscope was pirate booty.
I was enamored with ocean lore in general and the legends of the Outer Banks in particular. Tales of Blackbeard the Pirate, the mystery of the Lost Colony, and stories of the many shipwrecks that gave the Outer Banks its nickname of “Graveyard of the Atlantic” were fodder for my active imagination. I was convinced that one day I was destined to discover a shipwreck – either that or a trunk full of buried treasure.
As a teenager my beach interests began to change. I started to spend more time eying the bikini laying three towels down from me on the beach than I did scanning the horizon for pirate ships. I stopped wearing my old fishing hat when I learned that putting lemon juice in my hair would turn it blond and hopefully attract the interest of the aforesaid bikini. However, my love for the beach remained constant, and I remained just as excited about opening the car window to get that first lungful of ocean air as we crossed the bridge over from the mainland as I had been as a little boy. I was just careful not to show it.
My college beach trips were a bit different. My fraternity (and seemingly most of the others in the southeast) would head down to Myrtle Beach for a post-exam week of … well, you know. The highlight of the week was our Momba Suiti party, featuring plastic trash cans full of the namesake beverage. I don’t remember what was in it other than grain alcohol and fruit punch, but I do remember the strict rule that it had to be stirred with a 9-iron. These beach trips were fun, certainly, but featured little in the way of actual beach activities.
The years since having left me older and hopefully somewhat wiser, things have come full circle. We now pack up our minivan and take our own kids to vacation at the beach. It is wonderful to relive childhood beach experiences through them. Seeing their eyes wide with excitement after they have ridden a wave into shore, hearing them giggle as they dig up sand fiddlers and let them scuttle around in their cupped hands, watching them jump up and down as they realize that the tug on the end of their line really is a fish, and maybe a big one – these are all moments that I remember from my own childhood, and I hope that they will become fond memories for them as well.
My parents retired the Starcraft camper many years ago, and have taken to renting a beach house at at Emerald Isle. This has allowed our kids to have the special blessing of being able to share their formative beach experiences with their Grandmama and Granddaddy, as we join them for a week every summer.
This year, we have had an embarrassment of beach riches as we have also been able to join two other families for a week in Duck. Three families with a total of 11 kids sharing one house could have made for a very long week, but it’s been great. The kids have all enjoyed having non-sibling playmates, and the adults have all been easy-going and family-focused. We are fortunate to have friends such as these.
It may be true that a bad day at the beach is better than a good day at the office, but I wouldn’t know – I’ve never had a bad day at the beach.