Friday, September 24, 2010

Beach Memories

Do you have a vacation spot that bring you back to childhood? We spent most of my formative years going to the Jersey Shore during summers. This was not the Jersey Shore of MTV. The town we visited, Stone Harbor, had at most two bars and the teen dance at the community center was the closest thing to a dance club. It was an ideal place for a family vacation—we rented the same cottage for years and it was a three block walk to the beach and two blocks to downtown (i.e. the candy store, ice cream parlor and later, the hang out spot for pre-teen meet ups). Most times, we visited with our grandparents and often our good family friends rented the house next door. I vividly remember the smells, tastes and sights of those summer vacations, as I think most of us do when we think back. It’s funny now to think how much I looked forward to those vacations and hated leaving—I guess wanderlust starts young, even before the responsibilities of jobs and adulthood. There was just something special about the beach.

Our beach going changed somewhat when our family discovered the Outer Banks, thanks to our aunt and uncle who had been visiting for years. The Nags Head area was not only enjoyable, but more within the financial reach of a typical family (i.e. not reality TV stars). Our dream of owning our own vacation home soon followed, though we often continued our visits to Stone Harbor and affectionately named our new home after the town.

The Outer Banks was changing from a sleepy little fishing area (or what’s that saying: “a drinking village with a fishing problem”?) to a more favored tourist destination (and gaining year round residents) as we started vacationing there. Much of the area is protected national seashore and the natural beauty still remains today, but it is definitely more built up and crowded. But, at the same time there is more to do—plenty of good restaurants, bars, and shopping (unfortunately along with Walmart, Home Depot, etc.). Summer can be overrun with visitors, but the place has plenty of pockets of local character and natural beauty. The best time to visit is fall, when the crowds lessen and the weather cools a bit. We often visited during winter holidays and other times of year, when you had to check which restaurants were open and might spend hours just relaxing looking out over the water. Sometimes when I was younger, this bored me. Now I realize it gave us more time as a family uninterrupted by the rush of life at home.

Coming from a background that’s a bit of an ethnic hodgepodge, we didn’t have a lot of traditions in our family stemming from cultural or religious rites. My Mom sometime tried to adopt traditions from different cultures, feeling we needed more “family traditions”. The truth is we had plenty—they were just of our own making. I think of the beach vacations and all of the little rituals and memories of them as part of that. If traditions are about memories and a “shared culture”, our family is wealthy in those. Being back in the beach home brings all of those back to me. There’s still something special about the beach.

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