Family Myrtles

It was time for a vacation.

I love my job, I love my theatre company, I love our show, I love my new apartment. But after three months of production ramp-up, industry changes, moving, and other stressors, I was at just about the right place to come to the beach for a week with my mom’s side of the family–uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmother, and cousins-once-removed included.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly avid beach person. I love the ocean and I enjoy the beach, but I don’t go out of my way to get there more than once or twice a summer (less in the past two years, since “the beach” is really “the lake” and tends to be very crowded). It’s been pretty wonderful, therefore, to remember why people think of the beach as such a special place.

Our rented house has its quirks–for example, sugar ants, malfunctioning toilets, musty smells, coverlets that we have been forbidden to sleep under because no one knows when they were last washed–but it’s also got some pretty sizable perks–a pool, hot tub, game room, and twenty-foot walk to the beach included. We’ve had sixteen people in a house with eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms, although now it’s slimmed down to thirteen people. Only two of the stovetop burners in the downstairs kitchen work. No matter; we’re still cooking (or grilling, or ordering in) for the whole crowd.

I went for a run on the beach on Sunday morning, the first morning I was here. Some things I’ve noticed are that the ocean is the ultimate soothing white noise and that running on the beach never gets old, even if you still do have to wear shoes to keep from impaling yourself on a rogue shell. The water is surprisingly warm–I’m so used to Massachusetts beaches, where even in August you have to brace yourself before wading out. There are tiny clam-like creatures that burrow into the sand after every wave. And flying a kite is both easy and treacherous, as the folks who witnessed our close call with the nearest high-rise found out first-hand.

It’s always fascinating, vacationing with family. The cousins in my age group range from 23-28, but we’re still undeniably “the kids,” and we’re all behaving as such. We’re lucky to have some real kids too–my cousins Tom and Sam(antha) are 12 and 14, so they provide a good excuse to do all the fun stuff we wanted to do anyway but felt embarrassed to admit. Viz.: There’s a six-track NASCAR go-cart complex that my brother, my cousin Brian, cousin Tom and I hit up on Monday because Tom loves cars, and, well…we really wanted to go too. I might have gotten tossed out of one course for “over-aggressive” driving, although I maintain that I was well within my rights to try to pass those three people and that the resulting spin-out was an unfortunate result of their failure to accommodate me. We’ve been boogie-boarding and exploring the beach under the full moon, playing Frisbee in the pool, going for walks or lazing with books in the sun, and while the Independent Adult part of me occasionally perks up to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do exactly what you wanted in this moment?” the Hemsworth Family Member in me says, “I’d do anything as long as I could hang out with these people.”

I do find it interesting, remembering that the “grown-ups” are essentially just like me, generational gaps aside. To them, this is a peer outing–not so different from the Knightingales a cappella spring break trip I took in my senior year of college. Nothing is set in stone, and there’s a lot of negotiating between different families, different dynamics, different ideas of a good time, but ultimately we’re all just doing our best to not kill each other and to hang out. The “family” part means that sometimes we don’t have as much in common as your typical friend group–my cousin-once-removed made a comment about “who would have an Obama bumper sticker at this point?” and my aunt Janice had to remind him that not only did I support Obama, twice, but I happen to have a bumper sticker for “Women for Obama” on my laptop–but it also means that we have such history and such motivation to create new memories with and for each other.

I like it.

I like it a lot.

So here’s to the strange, complicated, stressful but also sometimes blissful gatherings of family members and adopted family members. Here’s to the chance to escape over the dunes by yourself for a few minutes, but also to wander the beach in the light of the full moon with your loved ones. Here’s to uncontrollable laughter when your little cousin belly-flops into the pool, and to untamable grins when your grandmother hands out binders with fifty years of Christmas letters contained in them. Here’s to long conversations with your closest cousin about the art you both make and how to evaluate it in the face of an ambivalent world.

Here’s to family, here’s to vacation, and here’s to a chance to stop and breathe and think and just relax.

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