A trip to the beach

One summer, while we lived in Washington D.C., my dad had to go to some sort of Meteorologists conference out on the west coast which left the rest of us at loose ends on what to do.  My mom came up with the idea of loading all of us into the old station wagon and heading for the beaches down in Delaware; Bethany Beach to be specific.  We had been there several times before and liked it so much that my mom made reservations for us at one of the motels.  Our usual one was full up, so we had to take what turned out to be our fifth choice.

We went around the house and stuffed small bags with clothes and stuff we would need at the beach.  Actually, there isn’t a lot you really need for the beach so the bags were pretty small.  This would have been around 1954 or thereabouts so I would have been 12, my brother 8, and my sister 5.  The station wagon, a 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, had two large seats and a huge ‘back end’ that we loaded up with soft things to lie on.

With a flurry, we were off – well, not quite.  We got 10 miles down the road and found that we had forgotten a couple of bags.  Back we went.  I don’t want to hint that this set the tone of the trip but it did.  We were arranged in the car thusly:  I was in the front seat with my brother hanging over the seat back whining that he wasn’t in the front seat.  My sister was happily lying back on the bags in the back until she said that she smelled something.

Quickly ducking to the side of the road, my mom discovered that a perfume bottle had leaked inside her bag.  This prompted her to crack the back window a little as we took off again.  Bad idea, as the back end of a station wagon causes a huge vortex of air to be pulled from under the car and directly into the open window.  This, of course, caused yet another complaint from my sister – that of being gassed.  Carbon monoxide is not a viable replacement for cooling breezes on a hot day.  Closed went the window.

Now, my brother decides it is time to get into the act and begins kicking the back of my seat.  I endure it for as long as I can (around 12 seconds) and then rise up to smite him.  The moment I do, my mom whips to the side of the road again and threatens to decapitate all of us and leave our heads at the side of the road as a warning to other kids.  She thrusts the map at me and tells me to direct her through Baltimore.

Baltimore?  I hear you asking – Baltimore?  Well, of course.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel hasn’t been invented yet so you have to go all the way up to the north end of Chesapeake Bay and then down the DelMarVa peninsula (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) to get to Bethany Beach.  We may have been able to shorten our trip at Annapolis, but the bridge there wasn’t in service due to repairs (we found out after driving into Annapolis).  So, with a heavy sigh, my mom heads back north towards Baltimore.

At this point in development of the Interstates there were none to speak of.  Some very small portions of them were under construction around DC, but nothing in the wilds of Maryland.  We ended up on several US highways passing through many tiny municipalities that appeared to consist of nothing but used car lots, fast food joints, bars, hock shops, bowling alleys and the like.  Every fast food place we passed my brother whined about being hungry.  My mom, after planning carefully ahead, decided that making a lunch we could eat in the car would be much faster than trying to herd us through some beanery along the way.

When instructed to look on the floor of the middle seat for the basket, my brother again whined that he couldn’t find it.  This prompted another crash dive to the side of the road and an exasperated search by my mom – no basket; we must have left it home also.  My mom told us that she’d stop at the next ‘greasy spoon’ she found.

We pulled into a roadside café and, true to his calling as a wise-ass, my brother then asked the greeter if this was a greasy spoon.  She smiled frostily and directed us to seats near the restrooms and behind a large column holding the ceiling up.  Eventually a waiter came to take our order.  The funny thing was, the spoons were actually greasy to the touch.  Was this truth in advertising?

Even my brother ate only about half of his food.  Usually he snarfs it up and starts looking around for more.  It was truly bad food.  My mom’s hamburger looked as if it had once been a nice fat one, but cooking it for twelve hours at four-thousand degrees had turned it into a lump of coal.  On the other hand, my sister’s hamburger was almost raw; mine, well let’s just say it was passable.

Barely suppressing a gag reflex, we all walked back to the car to take up our forward charge towards the beach.  Once loaded, off we went and two hours later found us cruising south along a narrow stretch of tar-topped gravel deep into the wilds of Delaware.  The first sign of Bethany Beach was, of course, a sign that read ‘Welcome to Bethany beach’.  For all the size of the town it should have said the same thing on both sides.  We didn’t count actually, but I bet there couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or thirty buildings in the entire town; and half of them were either bars or tourist traps.  All the motels were cleverly placed so that you had to run down the center of town to get to them.  We finally located ours and, it could be said charitably, that the place was a real ‘fixer-upper’.

There was some confusion at the registration desk but none of us kids knew what it was because all we could hear was muted muttering by our mom when she got back into the car.  Something about having to pay – in advance – for the entire weekend, or we wouldn’t get the room.

After being warned that “there might be some sand in the room” we unlocked the door and waded through the stuff to each take our turn at the bathroom.  The sink was stained with rust and the bathtub held a nice set of rings around it etched in yellowing stages from top to bottom.  One bed, when we sat on it, sank nearly to the floor while the other could have been a cement slab with a sheet over it.  The radio howled like a banshee but gave up some static-filled twangy music when whacked on the side.  Virtually every tube in it was microphonic.

The good part was that we were right on the beach.  By that I mean we could walk out our back door and be just above what appeared to be the high tide line.  This was easy to tell because we first had to go out the front door and clear away the driftwood from the back door.  Apparently, there had been a storm a while back and nobody bothered to clear it out.

Dinner that evening turned out to be pretty good.  Every one of us dug into the huge pile of crabs plopped in the middle of the table and started whacking them with the wooden hammers provided.  This was really great!  We could eat with our fingers!

Smeared in butter from mouth to fingertips we walked back to the cabin (yes, each unit of the motel was a separate cabin) and started our cleanup.  While waiting for the water to get hot, my mom read War and Peace to us.  Finally, we eased carefully into the tub (one at a time), washed the grease off, and hopped into bed.

I’ve never liked sleeping with my brother.  He’s one of those kids that, when he rolls over, he actually catapults upward, flips in midair, and crashes back to bed.  This has the effect of an artillery shell near-miss and never fails to wake me.  Since we had the soft bed, his movements would be transmitted to me and I would echo what he just did. Only a half-second later.

The next morning dawned rather bright with the sun hitting our eyes through the torn window shade.  Taking turns, we all washed up, dressed, and went to breakfast.  On the way, we noticed that there was a fairly stiff wind coming up and had to hold up our hands to keep stinging sand from blowing in our eyes.  Our waitress told us that sometimes this happened and would last for days.  I could tell my mom was not happy with this news.

Finally, we donned bathing suits and headed for our little stretch of beach.  We walked towards it until we could feel wet sand but never opened our eyes.  On the beach itself, there was nothing to break up the wind from its charge across the Atlantic to dash against Bethany Beach.  If anything, it had grown stronger while we were at breakfast.

We struggled about two hours trying to find or build some shelter from the stinging sand.  A fort was made using driftwood but all that did was allow the wind to drop whatever sand it held directly on top of us as it passed over.  Finally my mom hopped up and yelled for us to go back to the cabin – we were leaving.

Even I was kind of happy we were going because having my skin sandblasted really wasn’t one of my favorite activities.  It really stung and grit got into some of the most interesting places – and created raw spots that really hurt.  We packed rapidly and put all the bags in the car while my mom went over to the registration cabin.

When she came back lightning was flashing around her head, steam was coming out of her ears, and a huge cloud of angry black clouds hovered over her.  She said not a word. But marched directly into the cabin and began stripping beds of covers and sheets and piling them on the floor.  Once they were bare she balled the linen up, took it to the car, and pushed it into the back seat.

A woman came running out of the registration cabin yelling things like ‘you can’t do that’ and ‘give those back to me’.  My mom only replied that “if you don’t give refunds, then these are certainly worth what you owe us” and hopped into the driver’s seat.  With a slam of a door, off we went, throwing sand into the woman’s eyes as we left (against the wind, actually).

We were all strangely quiet on the trip home.  Probably fearful of lightning striking in the same place.  Our mom was awesome when she got mad.

T.O.M.

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One Response to “A trip to the beach”

  1. Rocky Humbert Says:

    Great story! I enjoyed it!

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