The First Day

From The Chestertown Spy, 8/9/2022:

“In the beginning…”

“When in the course of human events…”

“Four score and seven years ago…”

Just as one delicious first bite predicts a feast, or the first fat drops of rain or gentle gust of wind portends the storm, so, too, every good vacation requires a memorable beginning…

Welcome to the first day of beach week, my extended family’s annual celebration of sea, sand, and sun. It’s dreamed of for months, planned for weeks, discussed for days. In the hours leading up to it, last minute invitations are issued; supplies start to stack up; contingencies are considered; cars are crammed with every possible item anyone might want or need for the big show. It’s one long drum roll, an opening salvo worthy of war, the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at full blast. And then, as if on some mysterious migratory cue, we all set off from our various points of origin, bound for one common seasonal destination: Rehoboth, Delaware, the North Shores end, to be precise.

Beach chairs, boogie boards, bathing suits, buckets, and bikes. Umbrellas, golf clubs, flip-flops, enough food to feed an army, enough clothes to stock a department store, enough toys and games to keep the kids occupied should—horror of horrors!—the sun refuse to shine for an hour or two. 

Our numbers are down this year. A hangover from the pandemic? Supply chain issues? Staff shortages? When I count, I get a different number every time, but the roster hovers somewhere between forty and forty-two, spread out over five rented houses. When we begin to congregate, it sounds like most of the brood are under the age of nine, but in truth, it’s about a fifty-fifty split between adults and kids: siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, in-laws and outlaws. Even though the matriarch may no longer be present, she’s still with us in spirit, enthroned in an empty beach chair, Elijah at the Seder. 

There’s never a dull moment, nor a quiet one, for that matter. POTUS may be in town (and he is!), but our first trek to the beach requires a motorcade just as long and noisy as his. Some people carry coal to Newcastle, but we bring a baby pool to the beach for the littlest ones. Our sturdy beach wagons carve deep ruts in the sand. There are Yeti coolers full of sodas and Gatorade and beer; designer beach bags for the sandwiches and salads and sunscreen, an alliterative arrangement of what anyone between the ages of two and seventy-five might require to survive one long day’s journey from sunup to sundown, every day for a single week that soon begins to feel like a month or even a year.

Today, lifeguards will shudder when we arrive and breathe a sigh of relief when we depart. The beach will resound with shrieks of delight and tears of despair, fortunately a million more of the former than the latter. There will be jokes and trice-told tales, dips and naps, even our own version of the Olympics for three teams of future athletes under the age of twelve.

At the end of this sunburned first day, the plan is to retreat to our separate houses, but if history is any kind of indicator, there will inevitably be more than a few late-night inter-house visits. Tomorrow, we’ll all pitch in for an intergenerational smorgasbord on the sand: savory dishes for palettes of all ages, chicken nuggets for the kids, spiced shrimp and pulled pork sliders with homemade coleslaw for the grownups.

First day down, six more to go. In the days to come, patience might wane from time to time, but memories that last forever will be made. Me? I’m channeling Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times…”

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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