End of the Line

From The Chestertown Spy, 8/16/2022:

This year’s edition of Beach Week has come and gone. All that planning, all those supplies, all the leftovers in the refrigerator are history, now filed under “M” for “Memories.” The beach is once again empty and serene; the only sound is the cry of the seagulls and the waves breaking against the shore…

The final coda is always hectic. Packing up a disheveled household and removing all the exculpatory evidence of our family’s annual week in the sun by 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning requires skill, focus, patience and two or three more “last checks.” (I still missed one shirt drying on the deck, but sharper eyes than mine saved the day.) Eventually, there comes a moment when the cars are refilled to the brim and our army begins to move out.

There’s already talk of next year’s rendition of Beach Week. We may need a bigger house; “downsizing” hasn’t hit us yet. We’ll try to remember what we forgot this year, maybe bring fewer clothes, not as many bottles of ketchup and mustard, salad dressing and pickle relish. The Yeti coolers that saw such daily heavy duty will finally get some peace and quiet, the laundry will get washed, the bikes will be stored away with the beach chairs, wagons, umbrellas, and toys, waiting in the dark for next year.

They say “time flies,” but at the beach, it just seems to fly faster. We move in on a Saturday afternoon and suddenly it’s Thursday. Whatever happened to Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? By Friday, we can only talk about all the things we’ve done and the few things left undone. Only our tan lines indicate the hours we’ve sat on the beach, lined up like ducks in a row, watching the big kids dance with the waves and the littlest ones digging for China. 

The last days are delightfully cooler, a welcome respite from the day the heat index registered 108 on our weather apps. Someone says, “It really feels like September,” and that innocent comment is a poignant reminder that school days and jobs will soon be upon us again. So much that we looked forward to is now in the rear-view mirror. Tell me: where does the time go?

Beginnings and endings are book ends. The volumes in between are writ in double time. On our last afternoon, one of the grandkids and I etch our names in the sand, then watch as the tide hisses up to erase them. The letters may be gone, washed away, but in the indelible ink of our memory they will always be visible and fresh.  I sit in my high-backed chair as three little ones spend forty-five minutes burying my feet in the sand. They laugh when I pretend I’m stuck there forever—and maybe I want to be.

I might as well be honest: there are always a few moments in the course of Beach Week when the chaos overwhelms me and I look forward to some quiet alone time like a cool drink on a hot day. When I was young, I was at the end of the line in my small family, and soon enough, I will be at the end of another line. I remind myself to savor these precious few moments because all too soon, they, too, will be gone, erased by the incoming tide.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.

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