Barrier islands are notoriously capricious, they like to shift, move, or sometimes disappear. Whenever we get ready to go to the Outer Banks for our summer beach house experience I always hold my breath and hope there will not be a hurricane like that of a few years back when the island was breached.The life of the islands is finite, but I hope they hang in there for a long , long time. Highway 12 is not a picnic anytime, but because we go at the end of July/beginning of August, and because school starts so early these days, the traffic and crowds have usually died down. I imagine the most perfect times to visit Hatteras and Ocracoke are late spring and early fall, but late summer is probably a close third.
I have a standard shopping list, tweaked now that the Food Lion has been built in Avon. The house this year is actually in Avon and is Sound side, so it should be a slightly different experience. Of course, the brochure for the house always says that it is ” a short walk to the beach” but over the years I have come to discover that what some people consider a short walk I consider the sand version of a death march. This year I have bought a beach cart at least so we will just have to push/pull/drag our stuff in the cart. The big wheels are supposed to make it easy to pull on sand. We shall see.
We are not all day beach folks except for the excursion to Ocracoke on Wednesdays. That day we pack a picnic lunch ( we used to go into town and eat, but that was about a $150 tab and the food was not memorable, unless you are fond of eating with the smell of rotting fish and gull and pelican pop) ride the ferry over ( 45=55 minutes) after wandering through the little mall by the ferry dock, which always makes the men crazy because they are sure we are going to be gone when it is time to board the ferry, but the ferry wait is always 45 minutes or more. We have never figured out the system. Sometimes you can be in what you think is the first row of cars and find out you are the last row or the middle row, nevertheless we have never hopped right on the ferry. Despite that my son and my husband and my son-in-law all always caution us when we head for the shops ” take your phone, you never know when they will board. ” After the fun ride and debarkation ( I love the sound the cars make riding over the metal gangplank of the ferry–is there any other sound that means vacation as much, besides the sound of the ocean itself?) we set out to find a nice spot for the picnic. There is a really good spot near the beach boardwalk with picnic tables and trees for shade, we have been lucky enough to get it the past few years. Then we pack everything back in the cars hop on the boardwalk and attack the beach for three or four hours. I am constantly exhorting everyone to come back closer to shore as the wretchedly daredevil grandchildren make repeated attempts to be swept out to sea on their boogie boards. Last year and this year there have been shark attacks at Ocracoke, another fun thing to worry about, nothing like loss of a chunk of flesh to put a damper on the vacation. . I am always relieved when we are back in the pool, no sharks for sure. We finish up by going to souvenir shop on the outskirts of town. Sometimes, depending on whims or the weather, we actually go into town and shop a bit. My son-in-law Adam is particularly fond of one venue for tee shirts.Then back on the ferry for the trip back to Hatteras.
The evening of the Ocracoke trip is usually pretty quiet, after a day of sun and fun and sailing and eating and shopping. That evening we either play five hundred rummy or monopoly. It is too low key for a game of Quelf, that is reserved for Thursday, which is usually a mainly pool day and shrimp on the barbie evening. By Thursday everyone is getting a little restless, the week is winding down, we are all a little sad, but all also have something we want or need to get back to. There are usually by this time some good sunburns, our hair generally is a hot mess from being washed several times a day, burned by the sun, exposed to salt water one minute and chlorine in the pool the next and we all eyeing the food which is still left with dismay. How are we going to eat all that in the remaining two days? If we don’t eat it how are we going to not feel guilty. Fortunately for our consciences we discovered an island pantry for the disadvantaged. They will take virtually anything un-opened to give to the poor on the island. I am not sure if they give to poor tourists or not, I have to ask this year. So, we can drop off our big bags of tortilla chips and all of the other things that never got opened. For some reason we always have a plethora of crackers, cereal and peanut butter. I think I will not buy peanut butter or crackers this year ( which of course will mean they will be in high demand).
We cannot keep fresh fruit–a couple of years ago I tried to thwart the fruit flies by buying things I did not think they would eat, nectarines, yellow apples,fresh pineapple as well as the standard grapes, red apples and bananas. All I was able to do was introduce the children to new fruits they discovered they liked. My nectarines and pineapple disappeared just like the bananas and apples and grapes. If i want to make peach pie I have to hide the peaches under my bed or they will be devoured before I can make the crust. Potato chips and any soft drink known to man and hot dogs and lunch meat and cheese and eggs and bread and bacon all disappear like ice cubes on a North Carolina sidewalk in summer. Some casseroles, made in an attempt to cook easy dishes that serve a lot, on the other hand have to be fed down the garbage disposal every year. One year the house did not have a garbage disposal. Have you ever tried to dispose of a large bowl of pasta casserole without a garbage disposal and with a limited amount of trash space?
The trash is picked up twice a week, typically Tuesday and Friday and no matter how well we plan we always have the most trash by far between Tuesday and Friday. To begin with the Wednesday Ocracoke picnic creates mountains of debris. Last year we bought hoagie kits. Since there are 11 of us we had to have two packs. Each piece of cheese and piece of lunch meat was separated by a piece of paper. Add to that the outside wrapping, teh paper bags from the store and the boxes the sodas and drink boxes came in and it was an avalanche. We also got through massive amounts of paper plates, paper towels and napkins. Yes, I know, that makes us some variety of environmental rapists, especially on a barrier island, but if we used a real plate every time someone wanted a piece of pound cake or a few chips we would spend all our time loading and unloading the dishwasher. Not to mention that waste water from the dishwasher is also politically incorrect and we certainly cannot use cloth napkins. I doubt my grandchildren would know what one was as a matter of fact, maybe Marrisa, the oldest one would, I vaguely remember at least one holiday where I trotted out linen napkins and napkin rings when she was small in an attempt to imprint her with some degree of class. I wonder where those napkin rings are? They were cute. But I digress.
So, we are 12 days from the beach house. I have already started filling a corner of the dining room with stuff to take. Recently purchased pool toys, hush puppy mix ( they stopped carrying my favorite brand at the Food Lion) a few bottles of my favorite Argentinian wine not available on the island , dishwasher pods, detergent, fabric softener sheets, dishwasher soap, regular soap, toilet paper, paper towels ( all too expensive on the island) a well stocked first aid kit ( primarily needed for sunburn, splinters and bug bites) and lots and lots of bottled water.
In less than two weeks the Ohio folks will start the journey down, Wayne, Marrisa Natalie ( Marrisa’s college roommate) and I will head for the beach for our first day alone. We will pick up the keys, hit the Food Lion and head for the house, schlepping in about 200 bucks worth of supplies on top of the stuff we bought. Come to think of it with two young women along we probably had better plan to hit the house and unload first and then hit the store. Anyway, it will be fun, followed by the traditional coney island dinner and first walk to the beach no doubt followed by at least a quick dip in the pool and then a quiet evening to get ready for the next wave. I know it will be fun and frolic as usual and we will continue to build memories that will make us smile for years to come. Sometimes at Christmas we have to rehash funny events or comments from the beach house, already thinking wistfully of the fun this year and the anticipated fun of next year.
Beach house fun will always be, just as long as we have we. ( Apologies to Dr. Seuss)