We’re about to spend a week in South Carolina, where the average temperature will be above 90°, with my entire family. Nine adults, six kids, one house.
But wait! Before you feel sorry for me and try to help me get out of it, you should know this: it’s my favorite week of the year.
The Ydels have been doing this almost every year since I can remember, and before that the Baylesses (my mom’s family) did the same thing. I look forward to it as much as Christmas, and possibly more. Life has changed a lot, as life will do, but this trip has been a constant for me. I loved it when I was 10 years old, and I love it now.
Obviously it’s changed in some ways over the years. I can remember when my grandmother was in charge of all the meals (homemade hush puppies!) and when that mantle fell to my mom (shrimp and grits!). Not so long ago, my brother and sister and I were the kids at the beach, squirming away from the sunscreen and staying in the water all day long. Then we were teenagers, bringing friends and — gasp! — even boy- or girlfriends along. There was a very funny period when we were suddenly old enough to stay up drinking with the grown ups at the beach. Then came husbands and wives (who luckily are also very funny). Now we’re plenty old enough to drink but not as likely to stay up late, because there are new squirmy kids and we’re the ones chasing them with the sunscreen.
But so much of what I remember and love about the trip has stayed the same. We usually go to the same beach we’ve been going to since the ’70s. It’s a little fancier now than it was back then, but I can ignore that. We have a big red tent that’s raised on the beach every morning, so we can find some shade (because it truly is hot). We spend most of the day on the beach but there’s no schedule, so people drift back up to the house for lunch or a nap or a snack whenever the mood strikes them. We take turns cooking every night, and there’s a big shrimp dinner at least once every year, with newspapers on the table and mounds of shrimp to peel and eat.
A friend said to me yesterday, “You love that heat, huh?” And I actually do kind of like it. But more than that, this trip for me is about tradition and family. I love spending time with my parents and my brother and sister, and I’m very lucky that my brother and sister both married people that I adore. John thinks his cousins hang the moon and will gladly run after them all day long. And we don’t get to spend all that much time together, just this trip and maybe one other weekend during the year. So I hope that beach trips are something that this generation will remember as happily as I do, and that it will help them become close and stay that way, despite the fact that we’re spread out from Alabama to Vermont.
The reality is that someday this might become impractical. It’s already tricky to schedule, with three different school calendars to be considered and all the other summer activities that we need to make time for. It’s already hard to find a house big enough to hold us. Someday, if the six cousins want to bring friends or girlfriends or have husbands and wives and kids of their own, the group could turn into a bit of a circus. But I’d love to be an old person on the beach someday with my brother and sister, and Matt, Chris and Kim, watching it all unfold. I guess we’re going to need a bigger tent.