A Shore resident looks back on this longest of summers, with gratitude, not contempt, for faithful visitors.
This has been a long summer. In fact, they don't come any longer than this one.
Memorial Day was the earliest it could be, falling on the last Monday in May, which this year's calendar put on May 25. Then Labor Day falls on its most procrastinating, first-Monday-in-September day possible: Sept. 7.
A lot of people have packed it in, back to school already. The crowds on the beach are noticeably lighter. But we're still chillin' at the beach ("happpyyy, home, chill," as my daughter put it recently on Facebook. But she was actually playing Mario Kart at the time, not out in the waves).
It's been both a sun-kissed and a moonlit ocean this week, with warm water and crisp breezes. We're not calling it a summer just yet. But close.
It's been a summer of sudden weather: lots of rain, a few near-hurricanes, some hail, and then, out of nowhere, summer would break out. But the water has been warm, sometimes ridiculously so, Caribbean-ish. Never mind the odd days of weirdness, like the clam worm invasion, the stubborn mussel washup, the days of attacking flies, the beaches that tended to vanish at high tide.
But mostly, warmth and waves. The other evening, after sunshine broke out and washed away any trace of the daylong Danny deluge, the lifeguards finished their shift, and everyone else called it time for the beach. Even I caught a tremendous wave boogie-boarding. "It was like sledding, right?" a surfer said when I described it. It was. How did it take me this long? How long will it be before I try again? My daughter felt the call of the surfboard, my husband the call of the stand-up paddle surfboard (a long board that you stand on the whole time and paddle, easier on the neck), my other daughter the yoga on the Wii. We are all realists here.
This summer I allowed myself some fine shoobie moments. In 14 years living here, I had never just gone to the Ocean City boardwalk on a prime summer weeknight. Usually, we go a little off season, or my kids go for birthday parties, or we go during the day with the little ones. But this time, we went full-on shoobie. Gillian's felt like Disneyland. Honestly, I couldn't believe how many people were there. It was cool. We dug it.
When you live in a place all the time, it's not so simple to get that vacation feeling that I see visitors down here muster. The beauty of the beach vacation is that your kids are your hostages. Even into their teens, they are willing to do things they'd never do at home, like family bike rides, or a goofy multigenerational scavenger hunt like the gang I saw in Stone Harbor.
This point was driven home in June, when I walked with my younger daughter to get ice cream one night and we ended up picking up my older daughter, 14, at a friend's house, and then all walking home together. A guy in a car looked at us with our ice cream cones and shouted, "Shoobies!"
Really? Why? But it was obvious. My daughters saw it at once. Only kids on vacation would be walking with Mom for ice cream.
It made me realize that no matter where you live, and where you go for vacation, it's as much the going as the destination that yields the payoff. We all had a week off last week and it was all I could do to get everyone on the beach together at the same time.
Then again, living down here yields moments like the day my daughter came home from camp and we finally went for a swim in the evening, and it was only while we were in the warm ocean that I got a full rundown on all that had gone on while she had been away. Bouncing in the waves as the sun set, yakking away. Not a bad backdrop.
Out on my hometown Ventnor boardwalk, I was struck again by how I'd see the same faces out there at odd times, like the people who are always out right after the rain stops in the late afternoon. The boardwalk played its usual tricks on me, showing how people age in random ways, some olders still on their bikes, some walking - not running anymore, some just on a bench, some being pushed loyally in wheelchairs, while others disappear, not even making it down this year.
Something about the sun and the horizon always gets me thinking and remembering, when I'm running on the boards, about the ties that bind on something as routine as a walkway. I'm glad I have it near my house, and I look forward to its off-season pleasures, which are many.
I'm relieved that my dog Zeus has made it to another dogs-allowed-on-the-beach season. It was not a sure thing, given his age and his issues, and these could be his last months of that pleasure. Perhaps he will even allow his paws to get wet.
Again and again, while running, I see people who remind me of my parents. The older man pushing his wife in her wheelchair, like my dad used to do when he came to visit. It gets me every time, on that pathway flanked by an endless horizon, with a sky that never looks the same, and an ocean that never quite reveals everything it holds.
I hope those memories hang in the mist for other people, as they do for me. And to all of the visitors who came with their children and grandchildren, the children who got to hang out in their grandparents' beach house all summer, to everyone who used the Shore as their home base for a while - come back soon.