Beach Bum

In May I went to the beach with my mom and my sister. It was a great Mother's Day trip for just the three of us - no kids, no husbands. We went to Destin, Florida and spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday lounging around. For those of you who didn't grow up in the South, Destin is one of the favored vacation spots on the Gulf. For those of you without kids, three days without "MOM!" is sheer heaven. Put the two together and I was completely aghast at the idea of going back to my house at the end of the weekend.

The trip also dredged up a lot of memories for me, since my family used to vacation in Destin regularly when I was growing up.

Back then Destin didn't have much going on - only a couple of resorts, and a few small condos. Everything was right on the beach. There was nothing to do except play on the beach or go to a restaurant. Mom absolutely adored floating around in the waves. My sister and I tried to get as tan as possible. Dad would usually fry to a subtle red crisp on the first day and spend the rest of the time in the shade or covering the red spots with a towel. We had our favorite tradition of getting up early to pick out treats from The Donut Hole, or heading out late afternoon to the local fish market and making a scrumptious peel-and-eat shrimp dinner.

When I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school, my parents rented a condo in Destin for a month in the fall. My mom stayed there all month, while my dad and my sister and I went down there on weekends. On Fridays, Dad would pick us up from school, and we would drive straight to the beach. The trip took about 5 hours. We'd stop for dinner at some tiny town in LA (Lower Alabama). For those of you old enough to remember, that was back when Hardees had the California Raisins in their TV commercials, and the figurines were on sale with various combos. During that month, we ended up collecting the entire set for Mom, who was a big fan of those guys. I wouldn't be surprised to discover my mom still has those stashed away somewhere. In fact, they're probably designated for someone special in the will.

My parents let us take a best friend with us one weekend that month. I invited one of my best friends and later on, another friend and I planned a big surprise birthday party for her. We had a menu planned, her mom was going to make stuff, and we were working on the entertainment. And then suddenly it clicked - wait, I was taking her to the beach with me that weekend. Sorry, no party! That Sunday after we got back, the neighbors came over to tell us about our yard getting rolled Friday night. Very kind people who knew we were out of town and didn't want it to stay like that all weekend, so they cleaned it up for us. Monday I came to school telling people that we had gotten our yard rolled and I never even saw it. Folks, I honestly never put two and two together. Back then I was very book smart, but socially clueless. Maybe I'm still like that. A few years later, one of my friends confessed. He mentioned how the party getting cancelled meant they had some "free time," and how frustrated they were I never even saw it or had to clean any of it up. Oh, the agony, but they couldn't say anything.

My biology teacher assigned us the infamous "bug project" that fall: collect 20 bugs, mount them on a posterboard and appropriately label them with their species names. In late September and early October live bugs are very hard to find, even in the deep South. So our class really struggled with this project. NOT ME. A humid beach town always has plenty of bugs, year round! Every weekend, I found some exotic new species in Destin. I could always count on finding a couple of moths around the outside lights at night, or some crazy thing crawling in the sand. One Friday night we pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the car, and I spotted a huge grasshopper heading quickly for the main laundry room. I cornered him near a dryer and kept him in a jar all weekend until I could get back to town and put him on the posterboard. The length of my hand, he dwarfed everything else, and ended up being the Shock and Awe of my bug project. The teacher was stunned when I turned it in.

We ate regularly at a restaurant at the end of Beach Road called The Back Porch. Back then it was just a cheap little bar & grill, right on the beach. One of the popular menu items was a grilled amberjack sandwich, and boy howdy, that thing was fantastic. I know people refer to it as "trash fish" but I fell in love with that sandwich. Years later I made regular trips to Destin with friends, and discovered that Destin had exploded, and The Back Porch has become a force to be reckoned with. They expanded the restaurant and added a beach bar. If you're not in line by 5 pm, you're not eating dinner there any time soon. And the beloved sandwich is now $12. (Oh, beach towns, they quickly recognize a good thing and price it accordingly.) A few years ago, Brian went deep sea fishing off the coast of New Orleans and brought back a giant cooler full of fresh tuna and grouper, and a few pieces of amberjack. Even though it was 8:00 at night, I made him take the amberjack straight outside and grill it for me. When he finished, I put it on a bun with some mayo and a slice of tomato, took a picture of it with my phone and sent it straight to my mother. I just had to do a little bit of gloating. And then I inhaled that sandwich. Oh, the sheer joy.

One week toward the end of the month-long vacation, I was in the locker room after P.E. class, and had taken off my gym shirt to put on my school clothes. One of my classmates commented, with what I thought sounded like a bit of jealousy, "Jennie, you are so tan." In October, it was pretty unnatural to be that shade of brown so the beach lifestyle was making an impression on me. This was back in the clueless teenage years when we tanned like idiots - slathered in baby oil, on top of foil, anything to get some extra rays. Today, it's hilarious to think I could have been so tan that another teenager would be jealous of me. I'm the palest person I know, and on the rare occasions I do go to the beach, I live under an umbrella and pile on SPF 50.

A special thank you to my mother and my sister for a great time on vacation. The luxury of not having a kid wake me up, getting first choice of a box of doughnuts, or not having to pour a glass of milk for someone 18 times in a day was absolutely exhilarating. But add in the time to chat with my mom and my sister without being interrupted or having to mediate a toy battle, and that time suddenly becomes precious. I hope we've started a new tradition.


Mom/Neena said...

Oh, I think so. I think it's a wonderful idea and that can be our Mother's Day every year. Saves your dad from having to shop. Now to convince Brian and Steve, and we've got a tradition!

Dad said...

Remember that I made a special wooden display box for your bug collection. It was at least the fanciest bug collection setup to go with the wide variety of critters.