It was a cold and rainy day, as we knew it would be. It was always cold and rainy whenever we made plans to go to the beach. I was rather bummed by this because I had tried so hard to make everything different this time, better this time, perhaps drier and warmer this time.
“It’s all your fault,” Lucy, my daughter, announced with her eight year old certainty.
“Yeah, Dad,” agreed Aaron, my 12 year old son. “You blew it this time. Thanks.”
They sulked off to finish gathering their towels and other beach things. “Don’t forget the sunscreen,” I called after them. They reacted to my helpful suggestion with loud sighs.
I busied myself with my own towel and helping to pack up our picnic lunch. My wife was grumbling over by the table, but whenever I asked her what was bothering her she insisted that “Nothing” was bothering her. I wasn’t quite sure why but I was starting to think she was being less than truthful with me. Perhaps it was the way she was slamming the picnic dishes around the table, or maybe it was the way she had reacted when I offered to collect her towel and swimsuit. “Don’t bother,” she had snapped. “I’ll take care of it.”
So, I went about my business and loaded up the car. After locking up the house, the four of us sloshed our way across the driveway and climbed into the car. We drove silently as no one showed any interest in talking. Each time I brought up a topic, I was met with a deafening silence. “Come on,” I said in as excited voice as I could muster. “This is supposed to be fun! We’re having fun! The beach is always fun. We’re not going to let a little rain get in the way, are we?”
No one answered. My wife stared stiffly ahead, hardly moving a muscle to breathe or blink, the only way I knew she was alive was the rhythmic flaring of her nostrils as she breathed. The kids pretended to be asleep in the back seat, heads propped against the windows.
So, we continued to drive silently. We finally arrived at the little town along the ocean where we always went. This was not the beach as we knew it. It was so much better! I found the absolute perfect parking spot, right along the stairway entrance to the boardwalk. “See?” I pleaded. “This is the best parking spot we’ve ever had!”
I shut off the car and popped the trunk. Gathering our bags, beach chairs, beach umbrella, basket of shovels and pails and the four bags with towels and, I hoped, sunscreen, I started off to fight my way onto the beach. I looked around to see where the family was but they hadn’t yet left the car. So, I waited for them and they eventually got out of the car and started to follow me. “Great,” I said. “Now we’re in the spirit!”
We climbed up the little wooden stairs and found our way onto the boardwalk. I surveyed the beach across the other side of the walk and found it to be pristine, perfect, and untouched by humanity. “We have the beach to ourselves!” I shouted and took off, weighed down by all of the beach toys, chairs, blankets and other items we had taken for our trip. I scouted out the perfect spot, just above the place where the water could reach us on the large waves and spread out our stuff. “There’s no lifeguard on duty,” I said cautiously to my beloved family. “We should be extra careful.”
The look in my wife’s eyes was unlike any I had ever seen. I could tell she was swelling up with joy and excitement. Maybe it was the smell of the ocean or the excitement of having the whole beach to ourselves. Whatever it was, I was thrilled. “See, honey?” I said, happily. “I knew you’d be happy once we got here. Isn’t this great?”
Just then the wind kicked up and blew cold, wet sand on our faces. The kids plopped down on the blankets to hold them from blowing away. My wife stepped closer to me. I closed my eyes, waiting for the wonderful beach kiss I had been thinking about all day. “It’s the frickin’ middle of November!” my wife shouted. “What did you expect? A crowd?”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, opening my eyes. “Yes, I kind of did expect a crowd because it is always crowded when we come here.”
“That’s because it is usually summertime when we come here! You know, when it’s hot and there’s no school and people have nothing better to do than to come pay a fee to get sand in their swimsuits and hair and food! But no! This year you had to make other arrangements. This time you wanted to try to outsmart the weather. Well, here we are, Joe. Here we are, on the beach, all by ourselves, in a cold rainy day in November. I’m going back to the car.”
With that, she snatched her purse and picked up a towel, carefully making a show of shaking the sand off of the towel before stuffing it under her arm and stomping off.
“C’mon, kids!” I shouted. “Let’s build a sand castle!” I grabbed a bucket and shovel and began working in the sand, making a good show of how much trouble I was having with the task. After my third incomplete sand brick, my son sighed and came over to me. Elbowing me out of the way, he said “Let me show you how it is done!”
The party took off from there. The kids both joined in and we built giant walls, decorative spires and even a makeshift drawbridge main gate. It was easier to work with the sand because it was so thoroughly wet. After a few minutes of me pretending to complain over being boxed in by all the newly built walls, I spotted the kids actually laughing at me and seeming to have a good time.
I lost my footing and slipped down to the sand, laughing. By the time I caught control of my breathing, I noticed that the kids were not laughing anymore. “Kids?” I called out. “Hello?” I said as I tried to stand up. “Not funny,” I added helpfully. Standing up, I saw the kids and their blankets progressing away from me, toward the car. “Kids!” I shouted. “Come help me get out of this wet sand!” I’m sure they heard me but they’ve gotten real good at pretending not to hear anything they don’t want to hear.
So, I knocked down our fortress and hurriedly packed up our belongings, well the ones that were not already headed to the car. Slowly I traipsed through the wet sand, stopping occasionally to shield my eyes from the windblown salt and sand.
Reaching the car, I dumped all of our soaked, sandy stuff into the trunk and climbed into the driver’s seat. “This is so much fun,” I offered. Hearing no answer, I added “Who’s hungry?” This query, at least, resulted in three pairs of eyes looking up at me. I took that as a positive sign and drove to the little pizza place a few blocks inland, the one we always would go to when we’d come to town in the summer. It was closed as apparently everyone in the car except for me knew it would be. Driving further, I found a Waffle House and it was open, of course.
We went inside and ate waffles and ice cream and eggs and pancakes. I think the waitress took pity on me, sitting there, drenched and muddy with sand, surrounded by my silent, brooding family, as she kept refilling my coffee. Eight refills in an hour and she only charged me for 7. What a nice lady to be so kind to me. Eventually, though, my wife started to come around and she, like the kids, actually smiled and laughed a little as we ate our special thirteen-topping topped Belgian waffles. It was probably quite funny to see us as we tried to eat these things without dropping any of the whipped cream or berries or orange sherbert or chocolate sauce on our sandy, wet clothing. Luckily, the place was largely vacant so only a few people saw us. Oh, and the nice waitress, of course.
Climbing back into the car with full bellies and warmer, yet still damp clothes, I drove home. Along the way, there was talking and laughter, which made it all the easier to tolerate the two hours of traffic delays on the Parkway. Even my wife smiled once or twice and I knew she was finally getting less angry. Getting home, just past five in the afternoon, we entered the house. The warm air hit me and felt so wonderful. But mostly it was the aroma of the tofurkey, which we had left roasting in the oven while we were gone, that caught our attention. “Did you mean to leave that on all this time?” my wife asked me with that look in her eyes again.
“Yes,” I lied, “Of course. I had it set to cook slowly so it would be ready soon after we got home. The mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and soup are all ready, too, as they’ve been sitting on top of the stove warming up with the heat from the oven. Just push start on the microwave and the gravy will be ready in a minute. Hurry up now and get changed.”
I ran to the bedroom and pulled off the wet, sandy beach clothes, pulling on the nice outfit of pants and a sweater I had set aside and headed back downstairs. We set the table together as a family, laughing about the foolishness of our day at the beach, joking about my wife’s flaring nostrils, marveling at my son’s skills at making sand bricks… just having a good time talking to one another. With the heavy lifting done, my wife and I set ourselves to setting out the food. It felt like forever but I finally finished the carving of the tofurkey and brought it, steaming, to the table. We sat down, said our Thanksgiving prayers and served out the food.
It was perfect, just as we knew it would be.