Sweet Summer Impressions by Andrea Santo Felcone

donutWe have a favorite beach town we like to visit when on our family vacation. Maybe that makes us predictable or boring, but I don’t mind, because each time we approach the place in a new way. The comfortable atmosphere shortens the amount of time it takes for the beach and the ocean to work their magic on us, to melt our tensions, to mold us into more adventurous versions of ourselves.

Each year, for some reason, the vacation seems to take on its own tone and flavor. Even in the same setting, each vacation is unique, almost like it has its own fingerprint. One summer, we participated in several day excursions to neighboring towns. Another summer, we mainly soaked up beach time. This summer, there seemed to be a sub-theme of game play. Remember those “Escape the Room” games that were so popular last year (or the year before)? Well, instead of being trapped in one of those places with brain teasers you have to solve to Escape the Room”; we played a much more difficult version. In our challenge: We had to escape the living room of our beach rental house. We had to escape the HGTV “Tiny House” marathon. I mean, really–how can you look away? People are planning to use sawed-off wine barrels as bathtubs. When they aren’t trying to figure out how to shoehorn a Thanksgiving turkey in and out of a toaster oven. It’s riveting. Add to that, the fact that we had to escape the comfortable air-conditioning and the fully-stocked fridge. A huge challenge. Finally, one of us (I’d like to tell you it was me, but it probably wasn’t) had the strength of character and presence of mind to convince the others that it was time to get out and explore. Escape the Room: What you’ll need to play: One comfortable room, irresistible television, tasty snacks, and eventually enough self-respect to get yourself out into the real world.

One of us–I won’t name names–likes to dig giant holes in the sand. Not sure why, but he attacks this sand-digging, like it’s his job. Digging the perfect hole, only to announce about two hours into it, that he’s done, ready to leave the beach. At that point, he covers up the hole with as much vigor and enthusiasm as he originally dug the hole. Like a tiny whistle has blown somewhere (that only he can hear) announcing the work day is done and he’s part of some “sand-digging union.” Not working one minute over-time.

Except, on this day, this boy (O.K., yes, he’s one of my sons) decides to be cheeky about his digging. He digs his usual hole, then adds a seated area for his union-allotted breaks. Now after a couple of days of this, after he has lulled us into submission watching him dig his giant holes, he starts quietly tunneling under the front of his grandmother’s beach chair. Then, in a kind of camaraderie that hadn’t existed previously on this trip, his younger brother joins in and starts to tunnel under the back of Grandma’s chair. This starts our first ever game of (what I now call) Grandma Jenga” as the boys take turns trying to see who will be the first to sink Grandma into the sand. (Well, Grandma was a good sport about this for as long as a person could be, until it seemed that this would end–and end badly–in either sinking or toppling.) Grandma Jenga: What you’ll need to play: One beach chair, endless sand, a shovel for each player, and finally: one unsuspecting Grandma (or other good sport).

There were other games: paddleball at the beach, mini golf, even shuffleboard. But, in all of this playtime, I realized there were games NOT being played. Games that were conspicuously absent. The kids were not playing video games. They weren’t even whining about not playing video games. They were completely unplugged–and happy. The teenager was engaged, talking, even doing chores without being asked–on vacation. Remarkable. The youngest wasn’t whining (well, not about video games at least).

So, we played. We played in the surf, the sand, the house. My youngest invented a new shell game when he approached with two small shells, exclaiming “you really can hear the ocean in these” and then applied them directly to my ears like earmuffs. (Let’s forget the fact that the shells had been sitting in the sun, and felt like tiny burning embers against my skin. It was precious.)

On the last day, we went out for breakfast. The youngest wanted a homemade sugar-powdered donut to accompany his eggs and bacon. This is pretty much the only time of year he eats donuts, so it’s a treat to watch. He’s still young enough where the powdered sugar coats his little cheeks and he is unapologetic about licking his fingers, smearing them all over his plate, and licking them some more. (So, yes, playing with your food was also sanctioned on this trip).

And then, when the donut was almost a memory, he did the most spectacular thing. He licked his finger one last time, dipped it in the remaining powdered sugar and walked home preserving the sugar as best he could against the salty beach air. Back at the house, he quickly rolled his sugar-coated finger on a piece of tape. This, he announced, was his “vacation souvenir”–his way of preserving the memory of his donut and his time at the beach. (So, while a typical family takes photos on vacation, mine treats vacation memories like an episode of CSI.) An odd, unexpected gesture–yes–but one that perfectly captured the unique fingerprint of this year’s sweet summer vacation.

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