The Weirdness of Memory
Sara asked me on the first day we were at the beach, "Do things seem smaller than you remember them from when you were a kid?" and I didn't have a proper answer for her. I think my response was something like, "yeah, kinda..." but I really didn't put too much thought into it. The pier definitely did feel shorter, and the little concrete block wall that I used to balance on definitely seemed miniature. The beach was the same, the water was the same, and the house was the same, just a bit worse for wear.
Back when I only visited the beach with my family, we kind of fell into the same activity pattern year after year. We'd fish, we dig for clams, sometimes we'd go flounder gigging, we'd go to the same crappy restaurants to eat shrimp. It was all kind of familiar and comforting. This time, however, I was completely free to explore all the options the tiny beach towns had to offer. With my grandparents and parents, I never went to any of the beach restaurants, as they were deemed to be not as good as home cooking. We never EVER went to any of the bars or nightclubs even when I was of legal age. I kind of understand that now, since a lot of those places are full of scary rednecks. We were able to find one decent place that we ended up going to every night we were there (we had to go somewhere, the air conditioning was out) called the Sea Witch.
One night we ventured out to a place called the Fat Pelican. This place was about as redneck a bar as you can find anywhere. The one awesome feature of this bar was that they did not keep beer behind the counter, only wine and liquor. They had a giant walk-in cooler (just like Dirty John's) full of beer, and you were expected to make your selections from their inventory and pay at the bar. Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea.
I don't really have a frame of reference for the size of the restaurants or bars, so I'll have to be excused from comment on that. The ocean is quite another story. I basically lived in salt water during the summers I spent at the beach, and the minute I stepped back into the water I felt completely at home. Gently being tossed about by the waves, body surfing in, finding sand fleas in the surf, all these things were the most natural things in the world and were exactly as I remember them.
My great-aunt and great-uncle also came to visit with us one morning. I always love seeing them and talking for hours. They're still with it at 77 years old. I hope I can get there one day. After hearing the stories they had to recount, Jerry said to me, "Jeff, I had no idea you were so seafaring." I had to step out of myself for a minute and I'd have to agree with him. Only my family has really been witness to my activities at the beach, and I really haven't shared that part of my life with my midwestern friends - shockingly enough it just never came up. I guess I am kind of a seafaring guy, or at least a beachy guy.
I even took a short drive down to the boat dock in the bay to see if it would stir up any fond memories. Most of the memories were of the unpleasant smell and swarms of tiny flying insects. The fiddler crabs still made me want to chase them back into their holes, though. We used to embark from this dock when we would go clam digging. It was so eerily familiar I couldn't help but enjoy being there, even though I found it terribly annoying to be stuck in the bay for the entire day.
Standing there, reliving a lot of summertime childhood memories, I thought about where I would be in two days. Back in the city, where the most petty things seem to be critical worries, where the traffic never ends, where you can't see the stars or hear the crashing of the waves. It was nice to be there, but it's not a perfect place. Is there any such thing?
Maybe it doesn't matter where you are, but who you're with. Most of my most vivid memories of my grandparents are from our time at that beach house. Similarly, the things I'll remember most about this trip aren't when I caught that really great wave, or when we ate in that nice restaurant, but of just lying on the beach and chatting with a few of the wonderful people in my life.