grace kelly and the beach


I wouldn’t necessarily say that vacation was “relaxing”, but it was overall a positive and fun experience. It’s not easy being the “new kid” in a big annual family trip, but Jax’s family was overwhelmingly gracious and welcoming, and Miss L and I had a lot of fun.

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The weather was scorching, with heat indexes over 100 on several days and a bathwater ocean. Pelicans circled overhead and I was struck again by the violence of the ocean, compared to the Great Lakes I’m used to. The landscape is almost alien to me, prisoner to the inexorable rhythms of the tides and the battering heat – the coastline is spare and unforgiving, to my eyes, and the neighborhoods are rings of rental houses on stilts – some lovely and gracious, and some mean and small. There were storms some evenings and early mornings, and jagged lightning far out over the ocean; in the afternoons we lay by the pool and I watched swollen, angry thunderheads ebb and flow in the distance. I’m not a swimmer, and the harsh ocean scared me – stung my eyes with salt and bobbed me in the waves like a top, pulling me under and turning me over and reminding me how easily it could take me, if it wanted.

There were 24 family members spread over three beach houses, in-laws and cousins and spouses and children. It was an eclectic group; the youngest was 3 and the oldest was in her 70’s. Among them was a Washington DC attorney, a California psychiatrist, college professors and teachers, a liberal hippie chick and a tattoo artist.  Jax had made sure that we were lucky enough to stay in the grown up, kid-centric beach house with Jax’s sister, a brisk, cheerful, capable gal who looks like a mashup of Grace Kelly and a Lands’ End model, and her family. They were well-traveled, highly educated, thoughtful, interesting people and I instantly liked them. They were funny and gracious and mellow and easy to talk to. Our house had an unobstructed view of the beach and several balconies that reminded me of old-fashioned widow walks, where mournful women might pace and look for their lover’s ghost ships far out on the water.

Our house revolved around the kids; they all got along well and Miss L made fast friends with Grace’s daughter, who is the same age. We had regular meals and snacks with all four food groups represented; Grace Kelly and I cut up fruit and made grilled cheese sandwiches and made sure no one ate too much sugary cereal and that all children were liberally slathered with SPF. We let them stay up too late to go ghost crabbing and play Hearts and mini-golf; we ate too much ice cream and did movie nights with the kids featuring popcorn and Ghostbusters. We looked for sharks’ teeth on the beach and Miss L learned to boogie board. We raided the half-price surf shop for tshirts and spent more time petting their mascot cat. We fell into a routine of beach in the morning, with all the adults either floating in the waves or sitting in their beach chairs in the shallows to keep careful watch on the children with the riptides, and the pool in the afternoon. We shared washer and dryer and dishwasher and grocery shopping duty. The biggest trauma we encountered was when the house elevator became jammed with two of Grace Kelly’s kids in it. (It turns out Grace can calmly jimmy an elevator, slice a peach, and get lunch on the table at the same time.)

It was tiring for me, though, as I felt that I was always on my best behavior, trying to shoulder my share of the cooking and cleaning and keeping watch on the kids. I don’t come from a large, communal family and while I loved the loose bonds that tied the houses – sharing lunches and dinners, all of us watching each the kids, biking over and dropping in – I am strongly introverted, and that village atmosphere can also unnerve me at times, especially when I don’t know anyone very well yet. Plus, I think all couples in a romantic relationship should test their commitment via a ten day vacation and thirteen hours in a minivan with their children. Jax and I made it through, but Miss L and I were both glad to come home to our own house. And miracle of miracles, the cats were so thrilled to be released from their separate imprisonment that they promptly gave each other a bath and fell asleep, all aggression forgotten in the joy of our homecoming.

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oh yeah – and there were rum dums, which, despite their lurid color, were actually quite delicious.

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