I caught his eyes, and I knew it was the moment. My young, eighteen year old cousin was looking straight at me with that smile. It was the moment we all waited for . . . the moment of excitement . . . the most anticipated moment . . . the defining moment. He said absolutely nothing to me and I nothing to him. But, we both grinned and we knew it. And we weren’t the only ones who recognized it.
My sister was some twenty feet behind me laughing as she reached out for our tiny ten-year old niece who had just swallowed a bit of salt water, but was none-the-less smiling and laughing, too. My spouse, also laughing, had tumbled back further towards shore and was intent on returning, pausing just long enough to squeeze water out of his faded yellow swim shirt and to meet up with a brother-in-law who likewise was making his way back to the group.
The teenage girls – six of them who were all nearly the same age, (old enough to be on their own, but young enough to need some watchful eyes) – were already waiting for the next round, as were the college kids – the bold, the crazy, the unabashed, the fearless – who had moved the center of the group several feet farther out into the ocean than the original position.
In all, there were nearly thirty of us, marching out from the inch deep shoreline to chin high waters in the Atlantic. And with ocean waves crashing, we – aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, children, cousins, grandparents, and friends – stayed together. The day was bright and the water was warm. The waves were all too often over our heads, yet for some reason their force was unusually weak, with just enough danger to make it seem dangerous mixed in with just enough safety for those of us old enough to be concerned to not be concerned.
Wave after wave, we would watch and wait for the perfect ride, the perfect catch. The waves would roll by and each of us would do our body surfing best, some with more success than others, to manage them with fun. It wasn’t the skill of the sport or the challenge of the water that interested us. The lure was, and always has been, something else.
Vacation in my world has always meant traveling to the beach to meet up with a large assortment of family members. For the past 45+ years, during the third week in July, we haul beach chairs, tents, umbrellas, buckets, shovels, nets, towels, cameras, toys, coolers, books, food, and now phones to the ocean shore. Arriving mid-morning and leaving mid-evening, we pack, unpack, and eventually repack, learning to take a little less stuff and a little more food to the beach with each passing day. As I watch my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews carry my belongings to the beach, I fondly recall the times I helped my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles carry theirs.
Throughout these 45+ years, we have developed our fair share of family vacation traditions: take pictures Friday night, share homemade salsa, play miniature golf Thursday, late lunches and dominoes, ring the bell, get an ice cream, church on Sunday, beach bocce winner-take-all, and evenings poolside. Are they special, extraordinary, unique, exceptional traditions? Hardly. They are simple, average, common, uncomplicated, ordinary ones – with everyone included in everything and no official planning for anything.
These traditions have created a sense of ease to a vacation that could be considered a little arduous as relatives are required to pack up significant belongings and travel hundreds of miles in over-stuffed vehicles just to be together for seven straight days. And vacations, regardless of type, time, or location, can be costly. Gas tanks, plane rides, car rentals, maps, fun food, sunscreen, laundromats, movie tickets, and finally, the purchasing of all necessities sadly forgotten at home means vacations have a price. But, we return every year – same time, same place – to once again carry our stuff to the sandy ocean shore.
In all honesty, over those past 45+ years, we have changed locations . . . albeit once. And why we moved from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic is a mystery to most of us, but somewhere in the 80s, we shifted east. It is clear, however, that those before me sought a quiet, remote, uncluttered, and unpopulated spot with little more to do than link lives with those in attendance. No fast food, go-carts, shopping malls, piers, boardwalks, high rises, tourist attractions, beach bars, jet skis, surf shops, or restaurant chains. Just a roof over our heads with sand, water, family and friends.
As I caught my cousin’s eyes, I knew it was the moment. I could see it. To my right, a cousin of my cousin had locked arms with my niece. From the shore, my brother and my aunt were snapping photo after photo. My spouse ended up circled by the six teenage girls who were holding onto the lone surf board owned and operated by another young cousin. To my left, I saw a cousin’s friend raising a lost, then found baseball cap that had left the drenched head of another relative. Two others were holding the hands of that tiny, young ten-year old for safekeeping. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was laughing.
In that moment, I saw a family – 30+ strong – dancing in the waves . . . together . . . in sync . . .with no thoughts and no cares in the world. And I knew that this moment was the comeback moment, the one that will bring us back . . . together . . . again . . . next year.