Saturday, June 21st, 7:44 AM
Never fails. No sooner do I sit with my coffee than everyone else wakes up.
Everything is packed, but I have yet to shove it all into the car. And there’s still much to do: move my truck, shut the water off, drain the coffee maker (we’re taking it with us), eat for breakfast everything else that’s left in the fridge (it’s been a weird week for menus), list the stops to make along the way.
While I was distracted, Pinball helped himself to half a bag of chocolate-covered goji things. We’re off to a good start.
We’re not even bringing food–everyone else is, so I don’t know what the menus are. My brother-in-law is a pretty decent cook, so I’m not that concerned.
Things could be worse. At least it’s not my wife’s routine from when she was a kid. Every trip to their summer cottage in Somers Point went the same way: pack the car precisely, take the same route, unload the car and unpack. Grocery shop. Wait for Dad to assemble dozens of peanut butter cracker sandwiches and a jug of iced tea. Drive all the way to the other side of town, and circle the residential streets for at least 20 minutes looking for free parking.
Assembled my first couple of Gin and Tonics yesterday after work, so I’m almost in the mood for this. But I’m already feeling that I’m forgetting something. I console myself by imagining that even Lewis & Clark did this before setting off for the West. But, they weren’t taking kids.
Saturday, June 21st, 5:40 PM
By my second cocktail, vacation is starting to sink in, finally. All of the boxes made it up the two flights of stairs. The fridge was filled, a small bar area formed (thanks for gin…). The kids scrambled to check whether the beach was there (it was).
The neighborhood we’ve rented in is mostly new-ish condos where there used to be single cottages and beach houses. Squarely stacked, three-story cubes that now pass for shore style line nearly every street here, spaced as far apart as the driveways between them.
Next door is a much older stucco barn-style house, probably from the post-war period. Its rear, facing the ocean, is an obvious addition with a permanent canopy squatting over its second story porch that looks like it was designed by a bored lighthouse builder. The occasional green, sharp-edged patches of lawn are just big enough to be parking spaces. It looks out of place surrounded by the rows of plastic-sided mini-hotels braced stiffly on pilings like an invading army of giant walking shoeboxes.
On the other side of the barn house is long, narrow condo, perpendicular to the beach, it’s units squashed front to back on a single level instead of stacked. Each has a tiny roof deck accessed by a right-triangle-shaped stairwell poking out of the roof. The whole thing resembles the back of a large dinosaur.
The sun is hiding, making it just cool enough that I think about long sleeves. We are close enough to the ocean to hear it and catch the constant breeze. The sea is a flat blue-grey, the tide sliding out over the billiard-table-flat sand. Few people are walking the beach or the boardwalk that frames the dunes. I expected more on this first day of summer.
The trip down the Black Horse Pike through central New Jersey was just as unpopulated. Scrolling away from the dense strip-mall communities near the Atlantic City Expressway that rolls east from Philadelphia, there is little to see but pine scrub. You could pick it out from a nighttime satellite image by the vast unlit space parenthesized by the city and the shore points. Abandoned buildings, long rusted out, slowly collapse between the occasional viable businesses, farm stands, and headquarters for various organizations. Hand-painted signs and scraggly bars punctuate the miles of sandy medium green. We have almost always used this route, avoiding the jammed highways built to funnel tourists directly to the casinos. A bit out if the way, but much quicker.
The trip was unevenly loud. Pinball alternated between arguing with his siblings and chafing at his car seat. A roadside market granted a short respite and some good buys. We left with a dozen ears of plump white corn, a basketball-sized watermelon, and tomatoes. But, this is New Jersey–the market displayed as many stone fountains and lawn ornaments as they did bins of produce.
The deck is quiet now, except for the surf, shouts muffled in it, and the occasional passing car. It’s strangely muted for the number of people who are probably here.
Inside, everyone else has come back from the beach, and my brother-in-law has started preparing the chicken that he brought. He planned for hot wings and special fries in a deep fry. We’re apparently cooking a lot. A couple of the bags he brought were nothing but spices.
I hope Pinball, having had no nap, knocks off early. I could get spoiled by this.
Time to fix another drink.
Sunday, June 22nd, 1:42 PM
The only remotely strenuous thing that I did this morning was to run to the nearest zoo-like convenience store for milk and newspapers. It always amazes me how few people seem to make their own coffee on Sunday mornings. Breakfast was a mishmash; anyone who was motivated enough to eat figured out something. I guess everyone was tired, the adults among us having been drawn into a puzzle until after midnight. They get much harder to do after a few drinks.
We ran around on the beach for a couple of hours. The sand was warm, and soft in some places, still clumpy and wet from the receding tide. It’s clear and bright today, the only remnants of yesterday’s cool still present as wispy patches lofting too high to matter. The ocean was clean and refreshing. Sea-green waves bounced Dolly, Buddy and I around until pruned fingers suggested we hit the towels.
Pinball needed a nap anyway. He was up too early. The air and sea did him in, though. After washing off the sand he went into his crib without argument. After mere moments, he sweetly passed out where he lay down, gently and deeply breathing the soft ocean breezes helping him to his unfinished toddler dreams.
Monday, June 23rd, 11:35 AM
Felt like another Sunday morning. Slow, and focusing on concerns we seem to have only at the shore: locating beach tags and sunglasses that were just here; the proper amount of vodka in a tall Bloody Mary; what time the surf shop opens. The question about the cocktails is mine. I cannot tolerate the thought of a bad one, especially if I’ve made it myself. I don’t fully trust the mixes. And, we’re running low on ice.
My brother-in-law had a baking dish lined with nicely crisping hash browns already going in the oven. He had a great baked egg dish in mind, with:
- One dozen eggs, beaten with a half pint of cream, salt, and pepper
- A large handful of washed, chopped Spinach
- A chopped red pepper
- Chunked ham from last night’s dinner
- Freshly grated cheddar cheese, about a half cup
Once the hash browns began to set, he poured the rest in and baked for about a half-hour. Dolly had two helpings, wide-eyed as she ate them faster than I ate both of mine. Eating for the rest of the day will now be perfunctory.
Since there’s a touch of some strange new virus known as ‘sunburn’ going around, we’ll probably just take our time and wander a bit today. There are decent ways to fill the time we had planned for the waves. Someone is now engrossed in a puzzle. My mother-in-law is stretched out, reading a magazine. Everyone else has gone for a walk, leaving me to sit with the breezes and contemplate the wonders of baked eggs.
With a properly assembled Bloody Mary.
Tuesday, June 24th, 2:53 PM
This is happily turning into a week of Sunday mornings. But, I decided to get off my can an pitch in with the cooking. Fortunately, enough agreed to my easy version of French toast, only scaled up.
I discovered a wide electric griddle hiding under the counter. I love those for crowd cooking. As I warmed it, I made the batter by blending a dozen eggs with approximately three cups of milk, a few teaspoons of brown sugar, some vanilla, and a few good shakes of cinnamon.
Even with all the grunts of noncommittment earlier in the morning, the scent from the oven made all of the kids hungrier than we thought. Nearly two loaves of bread proved it.
The days are going quickly. If I were at work, I’d already be thinking about how to end this part of the day. Now, as Pinball wakes from his nap, the beach calls.
Wednesday, June 25th, 4:15 PM
Fresh-made lemonade is a wonderful thing. It goes quick on a hot day wandering around the rides park on the boardwalk. With six kids, it’s amazing that more than two ride any one thing. But it’s a good way to spend the day, and the pictures will be worth it. The boardwalk holds endless fascination for everybody.
We’ve hot a milestone today. Pinball has let himself out of his crib a couple of times, so the rest of today will be interesting trying to figure out where all the time has gone.
The day is ending with a touch of sadness. My best friend’s mother-in-law has passed away. It will be a late night home for the funeral tomorrow, then back down through monster traffic.
Thursday, June 26th, 9:55 PM
An odd day. Arrived at home fairly quickly, but late. Since it was so quiet I decided, with my usual spot-on judgement, to watch a movie and fell asleep after two. The morning was a scramble to reach the viewing on time.
A short and dignified ceremony concluded the event, and a couple of hours later we passed through my old neighborhood to sit for lunch at a restaurant I went to often as a kid.
An Italian eatery run by friends of my grandmother for a long time, it sat on a Y halfway between my house and my best friend’s. It had hardly changed. The same decor, dark wood paneling, old pictures, and scent of garlic were still there. The Parmesan and the Chicken Marsala hadn’t changed, either. It may as well have been 1986. I felt a twinge of nostalgia, reminded of things I wish I had known then.
But it wasn’t about me today. We talked about new things, new projects, where we were going from here. We made promises to get together soon. Then I said some final goodbyes, wished some prayers, and made my way to the jammed, steaming Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Friday, June 27th, 10:04 AM
The last full day makes for weirdness. Tidying and packing are on the menu, as are scrambles to any other activities we did not get to yet. And the last day of overcast surf beckons. I’ll be up late, spraying sand out of everything and half packing. I’m fine with it, we were here to get sandy.
Then, there’s the open containers, a deluge of fresh fruit, the bottoms of the bottles of vodka, gin, tonic, and mixes. Cereal, Mac and cheese, sticky buns, bagels, bacon, waffles–all make good for breakfast. Ten people, all having something different. And the recycle bin will fill right back up.
Fortunately, we had a couple of fresh tuna steaks left when I got back last night. I was still thinking about the day before when I cooked them, and did not even realize that I seared them about perfectly for the first time, ever.
Pinball is in pajamas and sneakers, trying to negotiate his way downstairs to watch some landscapers using some very loud tools. He hangs in the railing, transfixed like a fly at a light in the window. The tide is still in, and looks much closer to the beach this morning. A strong northerly breeze keeps taking off my hat. It’ll keep the beach flies at bay, so I’m grateful.
“Mine, don’t eat dat,” he yells at me, his attention escaping the landscaper for the two seconds I’m reaching into his bowl. I swear, these kids have radar.
Saturday, June 28th, 3:28 PM
Finally made it home. The kids all fell asleep for the last half hour of the ride. It probably wasn’t enough—taking the same route back always seems much shorter than getting there. Coming home from the shore has always felt that way, though. I’m sure it always will.
It was a clear, warm morning, as it always is on the days we leave. After loading the cars and turning in the rental keys, we crossed the bridge back into Somers Point for a stop at our favorite breakfast place. It’s cramped, usually crowded, and hot. Sometimes the smell of the bay gets to you. The tiny oven of a kitchen is open to the back door where you go in. Best to not watch what they’re doing. And the food is wonderful. The specials truly are, we don’t bother with the menus. We always feel better making the stop.
I turn the car off. Vacation is officially over, early as it was this year. Time to unpack, unwind, and prepare for week again already.