A Reunion of Memories

The beach brings them all back

By Tom Bryant

Over the last 10 years I’ve become somewhat of a specialist in setting up our little Airstream in preparation to camp. I don’t care how many times I’ve done it, I still have to refer to my mental checklist or I could leave out something important, and invariably, it will come back to bite me. It’s fun, though, and sometimes I remind myself of the dad in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, when he was timing himself while changing a tire on the old family Dodge. My record, from start to finish, including connecting to electric and water and lowering the stabilization jacks, is 20 minutes. I’ve yet to break that record, but every new campground offers me a new challenge.

On our last early summer trip to Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina, I thought I’d broken the record, but Linda, my bride, reminded me that the awning wasn’t out, and in the summer, that’s part of the contest. So the 20-minute record still stands. We were camped on a site right across from a huge grassy field surrounded by live oaks. The sites along the edge of the field were filled to the brim with four large tow-behind campers surrounded by a bunch of kids who appeared to be from 6 to 12 years of age, all supervised by young parents. After I put the awning out, I grabbed a couple of folding chairs from the Cruiser and a cold drink from the fridge and kicked back to watch the doings right across the campground road.

They were having fun. The kids were running from here to yonder, riding bikes, pulling wagons and, in general, having a great time. I called to Linda, who was still inside sorting stuff that we had let ride on the bed coming down from Southern Pines. “Hey, Babe, come on out here and watch this. See what it reminds you of.”

Linda made herself some lemonade and joined me under the awning. “Wow, look at all those kids,” she exclaimed.

“I tried to count them, but the way they’re moving, it’s like trying to count new puppies in a box. What does it remind you of?”

“When we were young and used to rendezvous at the beach with your family.”

I agreed, and we watched for a while as the adults restored some order, and they all packed up and headed to the beach. They had a little convoy of youngsters and wagons packed with beach umbrellas, games, snacks and a couple of the youngest children.

“There was a bunch of us, but I don’t believe we ever had as many as those folks across the road.” We talked and reminisced about the vacations when we would meet at the beach with my mother and dad, brother and sisters and all our children. We did that for years until the kids got married and started having their own children. Eventually, the numbers became unmanageable, even with two houses. Nowadays when we get together we do so in a more sedate fashion.

“I miss our family beach trips,” Linda said. “I wish we could do it again, but I know it’s impossible. Everybody’s spread out all over the country.”

“Yeah, I even miss the big family reunions we used to have on the farm. Do you remember the year we had the last one?”

“No, it was so long ago. It’s getting late. I guess I’d better start supper. How about tuna salad?”

“That’s good for me. Can I help?”

Linda replied that she had it under control and went into the little Airstream. I sat and watched as sea gulls soared at treetop level out toward the ocean. I tried to remember the last big family get-together on the old plantation and couldn’t. When my grandparents were alive, we had them every five years.

After our last reunion, I put together a few observations of the extended family gatherings, and Mom used them on the back of a brochure she had printed with the addresses of relatives. Those descriptions from long ago help me remember those wonderful times:

— Cars with license plates from all over the country parked in the front yard.

— Everyone greeting one another and trying to talk at once.

— Older folks trying to figure out whose son or daughter you are.

— Kids running through the big house, slamming the front screen door.

— Brothers, sisters and cousins remembering past reunions when Uncle Jim and Uncle Fred played tricks on each other.

— New babies showing up every year. Older faces missing.

—The old house reverberating with laughter from family members who have been separated too long.

— Kids swinging each other in the long rope swing that’s tied to the ancient pecan tree.

— Different members of the family setting up lawn chairs under the huge oaks trying to catch the noon breeze, while a few diehards suffer the heat on the long rain porch.

— Ladies in the kitchen preparing food for the buffet tables in the dining room, and people everywhere catching up on family news.

— And at last, dinner, after a blessing thanking the Almighty for everything that’s good.

— Relatives trying to eat a little of everything from Uncle Tom’s barbecue to Aunt Sylvia’s pound cake. Covered dishes everywhere with food galore.

— Babies and old folks napping in the shade of the giant oak trees after a memorable old-fashioned dinner and more talking about family and friends and family history.

— And as the day slowly wanes, family members gather children and belongings, and after hugging and kissing everybody, climb into their cars and head back home. 

— Finally, the house grows quiet again, and it seems as if the ghosts of reunions past walk the old halls smiling.

A strong breeze came off the ocean and I could smell rain. Cumulus clouds inland began to grow darker, and faraway grumbles of thunder could be heard. I began to batten down chairs and tables in anticipation of a summer storm. Down the little camp road, I spotted the folks from across the way coming back from the beach. They were laughing and shouting to one another and as happy as only a young energetic bunch can be.

It was catching. I smiled as I watched the adults herd the children to where they needed to go, then take a much needed breather in chairs pulled into a circle around a fire ring. It was a pleasure watching them have fun.

Good folks, I thought. They’ve got a lot of living to do.  I wish them well.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

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