When vacations go wrong, but right
“If you get caught,” my nephew Sam, 7, warned, “your mother will go to jail, and you’ll go to juvenile hall, and the family will be separated.”
Well, why shouldn’t something go wrong? We were smuggling, and everything else had, as my sister put it, been falling apart on this annual beach trip with our family.
When my sons and I tried to leave from Vail, 10 days earlier, the boys’ tickets had erroneously been canceled, and we couldn’t fly until the next day.
At the same time, on the East Coast, my stepfather fell ill, requiring hospitalization. My stepsister said she’d stay and care for him, so my mother could meet my brother and his partner at the beach before they flew back to work in India. My cousin had to hurry away to the bedside of her declining father.
This beach trip could be the last, but here we were, some of us, anyway; including Leslie, my friend since we were both 14 ” which is now the age of my older son, Teddy ” and her sunny 9-year-old, Grace. The good-natured Leslie, stricken by cancer, had just finished radiation.
After Grace, Sam and Roy bought small hermit crabs on the boardwalk, the visiting boys’ ostensibly to be returned after the week, Roy began longing to bring “Shiny” and “Joseph” home. He thought carefully. He could pack a small travel cage in his backpack. Dare the crabs’ chance security in the backpack? Or in his pockets?
“Roy,” I said, “would a hermit crab even survive the x-ray machine?”
Leslie said pertly, “It’ll be fine. Look at me.” She nodded. “You can take a lot.”
We were in Bethany Beach, Delaware, where we have gone ever since my mother decided to rent a beach house there 10 years ago. My boys were then 2 and 5, and in and out of the water hundreds of times, while my sibs and I walked, read and watched movies. Eventually, Sam came along. He was nine months old, with a little round marble head, when we took our first of many pictures over the years of the three boys buried in sand to their necks.
Now Teddy nears 15: “Dad,” he moaned one night when we called home, after hearing a band, “we were on the boardwalk and there were all these teenagers, and I was with Mom, and she was dancing!”
I remember the contentment of my own childhood beach vacations. Each afternoon one week when I was 10 or 11, I watched from our porch as my father played volleyball. I especially liked to see him serve: solid, consistent, a reliable arc. He would, at the time, have been 10 years younger than I am now; he would live to be only four years older than I am.
One night that year we all walked down the beach to the boardwalk for carnival rides, and I walked home hand in hand with him. He said, “There will be happy times in your life, and bad times, and maybe some day you’ll look back at this as one of the happy times.” I do.
Those trips seemed simple. Now we kids are adults: making the efforts, having concerns. It is tough when my rambunctious progeny disturb, and are observed by, others in a shared space. Kids, though, just zero in on fun, and being with family.
Ultimately, Roy decided to carry the crabs in shorts with cargo pockets. “What if they pinch you?” I asked.
“I’ll just take the pain,” he said.
He padded his pockets with other, distracting shells. In the car, before we checked in, he solemnly switched the crabs from cage to shorts. He looked big-eyed as we approached security, but proceeded unimpeded. He flashed me a tiny smile and vanished to a restroom for transferal back into the backpack.
Years from now, the boys won’t remember worries, rain, dinner to cook and bills to pay. They’ll remember people, sand, boogie boards and hermit crabs.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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