Being in close quarters with large numbers of relatives can be difficult. Every family is some combination of the Walton's and the Manson's, I suppose. But somehow for us, it all works. This is the 13th such vacation, so we've been doing this since Patrick was a fussy three month old. That inaugural trip was in Sandbridge, in a house with a window air conditioner in two rooms of the entire house, artificial turf on the floor in the kitchen, and roaches the size of adult sandals. Despite such third world conditions, we all had a blast, and against all odds decided that it should become a new family tradition.
As the family grew, the houses would get bigger. As our financial prospects improved they would become more luxurious. Once mom and dad got too old to climb four flights of stairs all day for a week, we began to rent only houses with elevators. As a result, we narrowed the field to houses constructed relatively recently, elevators not being a common feature of houses built in the 1950's. As the rental cost began to escalate, somebody came up with the brilliant idea of having a family yard sale on trip years to finance the week's groceries. At that point, the week took on a life of its own, permanently gaining a beachhead in family lore.
Beach week has also served as a testing ground for would-be suitors. My sister Paula introduced us all to her boyfriend Ron one year. Some of us were dubious, what with his problematic backstory which involved prison time. Ever sensitive to the feelings of others, we decorated the house for a surprise birthday celebration for him by decorating everything in a jail theme, complete with prison uniform stripes! A few years later Christina brought her boyfriend Paul along. He was nice enough, but guilty of false advertising, since for the week he had a head full of hair, but as soon as they tied the knot, he shaved it all off, and hasn't had hair since. Then, a few years ago, Kaitlin's boyfriend Jon, just happened to be a park ranger working at the Hatteras lighthouse, and so just casually popped in for a visit every stinking night, where he was a blatant suck-up the entire week, ingratiating himself to the entire family...except me. This year, Patrick has brought along his girlfriend Sarah. Due to her Greek heritage, we are forcing her to make baklava for 18 people. She's been here for over 48 hours and so far hasn't fled the scene in tears, so I'd say it's going pretty well.
"But, what do you do all week with all of your family?" When people ask this, what they are trying to say is, "Don't you get on each other's nerves??" The answer is...kinda. But that's what nerves are there for...to be gotten on. So, why not have your nerves gotten on by people you love? Essentially, most days go something like this:
5:30-8:30am. People wake up gradually and when they do, breakfast is an on your own affair. Usually a group of ten or so wind up at the table together eating everything from cereal to pound cake slathered in strawberries. At the beach, meal boundaries vanish. If you decide that breakfast should consist of left over lasagna, then bless your heart.
10:30am. The beach calls. We go down and stake our claim with umbrellas and beach chairs. It is quite a sizable enclave, and I'm sure other smaller, less loud families resent us. Yesterday's session featured a fake snake placed close to the new girl...who barely flinched. She has promise!
1:00pm. We head back to the house for another a la carte lunch, after which everyone heads down to the pool for the afternoon. Everyone, that is, except the unfortunate slob who is responsible for the evening's dinner. Yesterday, that was Pam, and by extension...me. Although the final product was a raging success, the process was stressful, featuring as it did a defective crock pot ordeal. But the pulled pork barbecue, apples and cranberry cold slaw, bacon topped baked beans, tomatoe pie and homemade ice cream cake was wildly praised by all.
Sometimes after dinner, we all head to the beach for a walk as the sun sets. Then we all gather in the big family room to eat Uncle Bill's stove top pop corn and gossip about all the idiots back home. Sometimes games break out, other times it's just a million small conversations taking place all at once. One thing that never happens? The large flat screen television that hangs on the wall, large and foreboding...never gets turned on. It just hangs there, black and useless....sorta like Al Sharpton.
So far this year, besides the fake snake, there has been a fake dog poop sighting and a remote controlled fart machine employed during dinner, with six year old Bennett at the controls. Just your basic, everyday Tomfoolery.
I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.