We just got back from our family vacation, so this month’s blog topic was an easy one - my favorite place in the world…the beach.
I've been spending my weekly summer vacations at the beach for as long as I can remember, probably since I've been about 6 years old. My Massachusetts cousins had a beach house in Nantasket Beach (Hull for my New England friends), which is on the south side of Boston, and we usually loaded up the car on a Friday August night - and left my father’s furniture store in West Philadelphia around 6PM and drove straight to Nantasket.
I have such fond memories of our beach week to this day. I had older cousins, who left a lasting impression on me. I got high for the first time on Nantasket Beach, and was exposed to rock and roll music for the first time as well. Most people agree that music takes them back to a place and time, and for me it was The White Album, Derek and the Dominoes' Layla, and Sweet Baby James - I still think of those beach weeks every time I hear this music. I even fell in love for the first time in Natasket Beach with Emily Goldstein... although is it really love if only one of the 13-year-olds is in love?
I learned what a penny candy store was in Hull, and went to my first amusement park (Paragon Park again for my Boston friends), although I'm afraid of heights and never loved the scary rides like my sons do. Still... a summer night at an amusement park by the beach was a thing to behold! My cousins also taught me about sea glass and I still collect it to this day. Sea glass is broken pieces of glass that end up being battered by the waves and the sand for so long that they loose the sharpness of their edges and get a little cloudy. I have a ton of sea glass in my office in 3 big jars, but that's nothing compared to what my cousins had - living at the beach all summer for all of those years. The beaches I go to as an adult have no sea glass to speak of, but I still find myself staring down at the sand during my daily beach walks - but it's now an exercise in futility.
I stopped wanting to spend my summer vacations with my parents around my 16th birthday. I was WAY too cool to hang out with them once I started to drive - boy was I a fool! So I switched to the Jersey Shore for a short time. It was close to my home and there were many trips in my friend's yellow Porsche to Wildwood for a few days at a time. The music was a little different then, but the sun bathing was no less intense. There was no such thing as sunscreen in those days (Coconut oil was the "skin cancer carcinogen of choice") and I learned early on how to "sun worship". It IS an art form, but you do have to be blessed with the right kind of skin and I was; so I was always (and still am) the darkest member of my family by the end of the summer.
I spent a few months right after high school with a good friend in Key West in a VW Camper Van, and that was probably the "darkest" I've ever been. All I ever needed was a towel, a beach chair, sunglasses, and a book. These are my tools of the trade to this day, only now I put them in a beach bag rather than wrap them up in my towel.
Then I got married and started a family and we started our own tradition. We took the kids to Long Beach Island originally, which we loved - although we really couldn't afford much of a house in those days. But from day one all of my boys loved the beach, loved the water, and loved the sand, so there were never any complaints when we announced it was time to head to the beach for a week or two. I taught them how to ride the waves, look for sea-glass, and take walks on the beach, and they certainly had their parents’ genes in this regard. By the way, Carol loves the beach just as much as I do, so there was never any arguing about how we would spend our summer vacations. We've probably rented a place at the beach every year for over 30 years now, and she was always good at picking the right house - not an easy task when it needs to meet the approval of her "picky” husband. Sometimes we stayed at the same place 2 years in a row, but rarely. As the family grew, finding the "right" house became more difficult, and it’s downright complicated these days when you have 4 sons with daughters in law and girlfriends and 3 grandchildren. But she has always come through and we always “make things work".
We transitioned from LBI to Ocean City, Maryland to Virginia Beach and they were all great trips; these were the "golden years" when the boys were younger but there was NO reading going on during this period. Watching 4 boys all under 15 on the beach requires 100% concentration (and jumping up and down 50 times) and yelling for them to come closer to the shore, and to be careful, and to stop eating sand. Fun for all YES! Relaxing for Carol and I, HARDLY!
About 20 years ago we found the Outer Banks of North Carolina and we have been going there every year since. For us it is truly a "hidden jewel". There are no boardwalks or amusement parks, but all the shopping and amenities necessary for a great vacation. Our idea of a perfect day of vacation these days is spending the whole day on the beach, happy hour before dinner, and a barbecued meal of some sort. The kids do all of the cooking and cleaning, so for us... it's as relaxing as can be (except that Nanny is never totally off duty - even on vacation).
For those of you who may look at a map and see how far of a drive it is from Chester County to Corolla (about 7 hours during the busy summer season), you might say "Howard... you pass 10 different beach areas that you could get to in half the time - why go all the way to OBX? It’s a good question, but an easy one to answer for The Grass Family. We started out renting small houses 2 or 3 blocks from the beach (because they were cheaper), but our family has grown significantly over the past 5 years; this year we "needed" a 7 bedroom house, and Carol found a beauty right on the beach with a pool and a private walkway right over the dunes to the beach. The views in both directions were spectacular - the back decks and windows all faced the ocean with completely unobstructed views, and the front side had an unobstructed view all the way across Currituck Sound to the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen. But my main criterion in a beach house is about my neighbors - or the lack thereof. Take a look at the first picture above. That was taken from my beach chair looking south towards Duck. There is 100 yards to the next family, and 50 yards past them to the next one. It is the same thing behind me facing north towards Whalehead - and there is NO ONE between my tent and the water, nor anyone between “my” house and me. Now I am in sales and I love people, but I don't like sharing my beach blanket with strangers, nor being so close to them that I can smell their beer breath, nor having to do a serpentine dance through 8 families to find a path to the ocean - which I go into to cool off about 10 times every day. I am affectionately known to my family as a beach snob, and I'm probably guilty as charged. Truth be told, I'm willing to drive 7 hours (in both directions) one week a year for this type of privacy on the beach, and pay a premium for it as well. To me it is worth every minute in the car and every penny, but that's just the way I am.
But the title of this post in "My Happy Place" and so it's time to tie up some loose ends. For me, there is nowhere more peaceful on earth than the beach. It's the one place I can truly "shut down" my work life and totally relax. It's the sound of the waves churning 24/7. It's the smell of the ocean that is like no other smell on earth. Its the sand in your toes, and the daily walks on the beach where Carol and I can really talk about things that matter - our lives, our family, our future, and our incredible good fortune to be able to meet up with all of our boys and their families in such an incredible place for one week each year. Where it seems like the good old days when all of the boys were living with us under one roof, and spend all day together for a week straight where everyone gets a reminder of the true meaning of what being a family is - and particularly what it means to be a "Grass". I get to relax and read most of the day, and watch our boys instill a love for the beach in our grandchildren - and this might be the best part of all.
Yes we love the Outer Banks and all that it encompasses for us. Justin proposed to Kate a few years ago on the beach after our traditional Sunday Night dinner (our first dinner of the week), and now we have Mister Sullivan - who in a few years will be able to learn how to ride the waves with his Dad, and make sand castles with his cousins Devyn and Madison - God willing. And one day in the future my kids will make a pair of sad walks from the beach house to the water’s edge - and spread our ashes out over the shoreline of the Outer Banks - as it is written in both of our wills. And hopefully they will continue our OBX tradition for many years after we're gone, by coming down here for a week each summer to keep the Grass Family close and strong. And maybe even a quick toast to their parents who are no longer with them during the Friday Afternoon Happy Hour on the beach, which is just another part of our tradition. Yes... the beach is truly my happy place, and I hope I get to spend many more weeks down here! Peace and love, HG