For as long as I can remember summer meant a weeklong family vacation at the beach. The sand, water as far as the eye can see, along with the soft crashing of frothy waves- is there anything else that can invoke such serenity? Not as far as I can see.
When I was younger the family took its annual beach vacation in June. We’d pack up the sedan with all sorts of provisions and head southeast to Ocean City, MD. Days were spent on the beach with buckets, shovels and worn canvas rafts. The smell of Coppertone lotion was everywhere as were other young families with a small entourage of toddlers. Black and white photos from the late 1960s show my sister and I with sun-bleached hair and big, bright smiles as we pose for the camera in our two-piece bathing suits that had been made especially for us by our grandmother.
Jumping the waves meant standing at the surf’s edge, with my hand tightly clasped in the security of my father’s, waiting for the waves to come. I’d measure up each one and time my leap so I could avoid the catastrophe of being knocked over by the force of the water. Shrieks and laughter provided the soundtrack for my courageous feats of synchronized jumping.
As I got older I paddled my way out into the ocean on one of those faded rafts in hopes of catching a wave in the sweet spot. If my timing was right I would be able to ride the moving crest all the way in to the sandy beach. When things were really going my way I might find myself scooting through the tube of the water wall before coming out on the other side. That didn’t happen all that much. I often found myself trapped in the collapse of the lip before being turned upside down in the wave’s trough. For a second or two my body would spin and tumble while my brain instinctively searched for a way out of the water prison. Just about the time my brain headed for panic mode I would pop up and out of the water-feeling confused- with a cup of sand in my bathing suit bottom and my eyes fluttering as they adjusted to the sunlight above the sea while scanning the surface for my missing raft.
I was about 28 years old the last time my family went to Ocean City together. I had moved out of the house by then but was happy to meet up with everyone for a few days on the beach. With the passing of time our little group had grown to include my brothers' wives and others. There was also my grandmother who made her first trip to Ocean City in many a year. Her legs weren’t steady enough to get her onto the beach but she kept watch on all of us from her seat on the porch overlooking the ocean.
The group may have changed, but the time on the beach was very much the same. There was some digging and sand castle building as well as a few good rides atop waves. Yes, there was sand in the pants as well. In our younger years we would have spent the evening playing Chutes and Ladders or Life. The older, wiser group settled into a few spirited games of Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit instead.
Many things remained unchanged by the passing of time. They include the serenity provided by the infinite crashing of waves, big and small, along the Atlantic shoreline and my mother’s go-to dinner of Shake and Bake chicken.