There’s a small diner somewhere between here and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not much to look at, nothing real special or unique about this diner. Across from the rotating dessert display case is the cash register. Under the glass counter are a few different candy options. I always choose the fruit chews, strawberry. We get back in the big full-sized van packed with groceries, beach chairs, and boogie boards, and we’re off to the beach for a week.
As a kid, the first or second week of August meant my grandparents would drive down to our house with their huge van packed full. We would have our minivan ready to go with our stuff and we would caravan down to Surf City, New Jersey. It was a predictable trip.
Every year my grandmother would bring down delicious sugar cookies topped with pink icing, packaged in a pink cardboard box tied up with a thin white string. Every year we stopped at the same diner for lunch and got candy to eat during the rest of the drive. Every year for many years we stayed in the same house, just steps from the beach.
It was a small cottage with brown and tan shake siding and a small stoop in front of the door. The minimal landscaping outside was mostly composed of river rocks, sand, and a few green plants. Follow the stepping stones around the back and you pass the enclosed outdoor shower to clean off the day’s sand and salt.
I have so many memories of that place. The beach itself was never too crowded, at least for a kid. I spent most of my time playing in the sand until I gained enough courage to venture into the ocean. From then on it was all ocean all the time — swimming, boogie boarding, skim boarding, and body surfing.
Each year we would head down to the bay side of the island and spend some time crabbing. I never ate any of the crabs, but it was still fun to bait the strings and slowly pull them up to check what we caught.
We would also try flying a kite, because the beach is perfect for flying kites, right? Except our family is notorious for having terrible luck with flying kites. We had such trouble getting it up in the air at all. There’s home video somewhere of my grandmother trying to fly the kite and just getting completely tangled in the string before the kite nose dives into the sand dune. However, we did get the kite up in the air one year, only to have it break free from the handle and land on a roof a half block away.
I’m very glad and fortunate that my parents made that trip a tradition. Even if it hadn’t been a big beach trip every year, just the fact that they took the time to spend with my brother, sister, and me is a blessing.
This post was chosen from a prompt box, an idea taken from my colleague Andrea. The timing is fitting because my wife and I just booked a beach vacation for our family this summer. After looking at a bunch of places, guess where we’re staying? A nice little Airbnb in Surf City.
I’m looking forward to sharing some of the same experiences I had growing up with my own kids.