Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beach houses

This will be interesting only to my immediate family.

We first began going to the beach in about 2002, I think.  We had a pastor at that time who spoke often in his sermons about Ocean Isle Beach.  It sounded good, so we gave it a try.  I think Jon was six, Laura was nine, David was eleven and Shannon was twelve, or thereabout.  That seems right.  We stayed in an oceanfront home called Fisher's Wharf on the corner of Raeford.  We arrived as the sun was setting, to a magical sky full of amazing pastel colors.  The children ran around the decking to the front of the house and out the boardwalk to the ocean where they sank directly into the foaming ocean waves, in their clothes, and Shannon called out, "Mom!  How did you find this place?"  It was a very comfortable house; I slept to the roar of the ocean like I'd never slept on vacation before in my life.  We enjoyed the beach, which was very full of shells.  I'd bought a guidebook about North Carolina, and it spoke of Sunset Beach, 20 minutes to the southwest.  We drove over to check it out one afternoon, and loved the fine white sand and the quiet atmosphere.  We decided to try that island if we ever came again.  Our house on Ocean Isle had everything we needed except good knives.  After we got home, I bought a special knife for taking on beach vacations.  Mama gotta cook.

Our next beach vacation was in April of 2005, I'm pretty sure.  We went to a house on Sunset Beach called Amazing Grace.  It was on the extreme eastern end of the island (more extreme then than now, as that end has since been further developed).  It was a two-story turreted house, and the windows surrounding the sitting room off the master bedroom gave a circular view around the end of the island from ocean to channel to bay.  We were delighted to discover that pink sunrises awoke us each morning, with lovely views right from the bed!  That house also came with an impressive supply of toys for the kids to take to the beach.  It was a good week.

We went back again in August of that same year (2005).  Our house was called Southern Comfort, which I did not approve of.  It was a classic beach house floor plan with living/dining/kitchen down the middle and two bedrooms and a bathroom on either side.  I remember lots of white wicker and high, vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans.  It was a second row house, just across the street from the Fifth Street beach access.  It's been rebuilt, or at least renamed (renaming could only have been an improvement).  That was the year we bought an inflatable raft and the kids navigated the channel to visit Ocean Isle.  It was also the year when Shawn and I spent evenings walking along the shore under a full moon at high tide.

I think we went right back again in 2006.  That would have been the April when Shannon was a junior, David was in ninth grade, Laura was in eighth grade, and Jon was in fifth.  I think that is right?  That time we went in April and it was cold. We stayed in a lovely home on the back bay on the east end called Conch Out, and I think it may have been my favorite vacation.  David had his saxophone.  There was a crab trap and a floating dock to the bay where we could set the trap and catch crabs.  Jon made friends with the people next door.  Our friend TJ drove up from SC to visit us.

It seems like in those days we meant to go to the beach every other year, and then to Minnesota on the alternating years.  But then we started going to the beach in April and to Minnesota over the summer.  Maybe this is accurate?  We'd gone to Maine when Jonny was two (1997) and it was freezing.  Then we went to Cape Cod in about 2000.  That was even colder than Maine (it was one of those summerless years).  We flew all the way to California and explored the Pacific coast from Pasadena to San Diego in February of 2001, but that was cold too (at least we had a heated pool at our San Diego hotel).  Finally, we found the Brunswick Beaches of NC, which even when they are cold in April are not as cold as Maine in June.  In August the water is like a bath, and even I can walk straight in.

Anyway, that 2006 vacation in Conch Out was the last beach vacation we took as a whole family.  It was a good one, full of sweet azaleas and bitter sunscreen.  Little did I know that we wouldn't have the whole tribe together at the beach again.  Well, perhaps some day we will, but it hasn't happened yet.

April 2008 we went back, this time to the west end of the Sunset Beach, near Bird Island and the marsh.  We stayed in an amazing home called Tranquility Base.  It was on 40th Street and had double decks overlooking the marsh and the sunsets.  Everything about the house was fabulous, from the decorating, to the kitchen equipment, to the large soaking tub in the master bathroom, to the sunset views.  They even provided kayaks, although the marsh was low and we didn't have much luck using them. The only drawback (besides that it was cold) was that Shannon wasn't with us; she was in college, and her spring break was different from everyone else's.  David and Laura got sunburned studying for AP exams on one of the roof decks.  It was a fabulously beautiful house, and I remember Laura saying, "If their beach house is this nice, can you imagine what their regular house is like?"  This house is no longer available to renters.  I think one of the most memorable things about that vacation was the trip back up north to New York.  Spring was full blown in North Carolina, with spring green leaves spreading gentle shade over colorful bulb flowers everywhere.  As we headed north, the flowers disappeared and the leaves got smaller and smaller, until finally we reached the land of bare branches.  It began to snow, and we arrived home to a blizzard and a snow day school cancellation that Monday.

In the summer of 2009, we went to Texas to see Shawn's paternal grandmother, whom the children had never met.  We did the Riverwalk in San Antonio, visited the Alamo and swam in the gulf around Port Aransas.   This was our last family vacation, and it was one to remember forever.

August 2010 we went back to Sunset Beach.  That summer we stayed on Fifth Street, towards the east end of the island, farther back from the ocean than we'd ever stayed before.  We used the money we saved on the house rental to rent a vacation package that gave us a grill, a beach wagon, four beach chairs and an umbrella.

It turned out to be a fabulous way to do things.  The house was called Carpenters' Cottage, and it was really cute.  The background colors were neutral and light, the bedspreads were eye-poppingly bright and beachy, the furniture was comfortable and the kitchen was very nicely equipped.  We took David, Laura, Jon and a friend of Laura's, and much Boom-o was played.  It was a great vacation until Thursday, when Shawn received an email that threatened a ferocious lawsuit against the boss at his previous company.  This event put a major damper on our memories of an otherwise lovely vacation.

Nevertheless, we went back for another round in August 2011.  We tried the same strategy: rent a house farther from the beach, and spend the savings on a grill and beach gear.  The house in 2011 was called Three Sisters, which was ironic because we had three children, but only one sister: David, Laura and Jon.

Although we missed Shannon immensely, we had a magical, beautiful time together in this well maintained and equipped pink house.  It was not the fanciest house we've stayed in, but it was one of the most comfortable and livable houses; I loved it.  It was the first time we stayed in a pink house, and every time I came "home" to it, I had a little thrill that this pink house was mine for the week.  The kids got along well, Laura was happy because she had her own bathroom, and the waves were warm and wonderful.  I think this was the year Jon bought his first skim board and learned to use it.  Friday, as I was beginning to think about packing up to leave, I opened my computer and found a message from my niece Abby, saying that my father had suffered a heart attack, but that he was okay.  So that vacation had a less than ideal ending too, although it was a blessing that we did have immediate confirmation that all was well.  Shawn and Jon and I headed to Minnesota to see my parents after dropping Laura off at college, so we got an extra trip that summer.

August 2012, we set forth again.  This time, we took a houseful: our youth pastor, his wife and their two little children, and a friend of David's, as well as David and Jon (Laura had already gone back to college by the time we went).  That year, we got a house called Sand In My Shoes.  It actually had a sort of separate apartment upstairs, with a kitchenette and everything, so our youth pastor's family could have some semblance of privacy.  I'd always wanted to have the joy of watching little children discover the beach, and it was exciting and rewarding to practice up on some grandma skills.  That was a busy vacation because, besides having extra people along, I was trying to prepare for my job teaching English at a Christian school (the vacation had been planned long before the job offer came along), and this was totally overwhelming to me.  I don't have many clear memories of this vacation, but I had an impression of other people playing a lot of Settlers of Catan and watching Batman movies late at night.

The summer of 2013, we moved from New York to Illinois.  We did not have a vacation.  The summer of 2014, Laura got married and we did not have a vacation that year, either, unless you count the trip to Ohio for the wedding.

Last summer, 2015, we went to the beach for two whole weeks!  The house was called Beach Time.  It was, perhaps, the shabbiest house we had ever rented, although it provided everything we needed, even boogie boards.  The kitchen was decent except for the knives (and I had to go to Walmart and buy a pan to bake chicken in).  We didn't rent a beach package because the price had more than doubled, and being there two weeks made the cost ridiculously prohibitive, but they did furnish a charcoal grill with the property.  It was a super vacation, despite the shabbiness, and you can read about it in my August 2015 logs, if you wish.  We had Shannon and Jon for the first week, and then our friends Ann and Walter joined us when Shannon left, for the second week.

Most recently, we stayed oceanfront on Sunset Beach for the very first time, about a week ago (April 2016), in a house called Dune Our Thing.  This sounds fancier than it was.  It was a pet friendly oceanfront rental, and it was affordable, so that should give you some idea.  It may have been even shabbier than Beach Time from last summer; at any rate, the washer and dryer were rustier.  I quite enjoyed the "art" on the walls in this house, and I got used to the bright colors after a few days, and began to feel fondly about them.  We took Schubert, and spent some time just the two of us and our little brown dog (who was not much enamored of the beach).  We might have gotten lonely for family, but David and a friend of his joined us for a number of days, so that was a blessing.  Shawn had a blast setting up a ham radio and contacting many people in many places, from Uruguay to the United Arab Emirates to Russia and Ireland to Australia and back to Cary, NC!

So that is our history, to date, of beach vacation rentals.

To recap:

August 2002, Fisher's Wharf, OIB
April 2005, Amazing Grace, SB
August 2005, Southern Comfort, SB
April 2006, Conch Out, SB
April 2008, Tranquility Base, SB
August 2010, Carpenters' Cottage, SB
August 2011, Three Sisters, SB
August 2012, Sand in My Shoes, SB
August 2015, Beach Time, SB
April 2016, Dune our Thing, SB

Ten vacations, ten houses, ten sets of precious memories.

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