Old Habits in New Spaces by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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My wife and I are back at the beach (Rehoboth Beach, to be specific) on our annual pilgrimage to the Delaware shore. While I’m a relative newcomer to this littoral tradition, she has been coming here all her life. Memories of past summers sustain her through the long winter; planning consumes her every spring. I go along for the ride and to watch the never-ending sitcom that repeats every summer. But this year, there’s a big difference: instead of our usual rental, we’re in a different house. It’s an adjustment for her, but I fell in love with the new place at hello!

She knew where everything was in the old house: the glassware, the spatulas, the corkscrew, the bowls and the napkins and the ice bucket and the bug spray; the towels and the linens; the charcoal and the chimney for the grill. In the new house, everything is guesswork, but we’re beginning to make progress. We discovered the silverware drawer and we’ve found out how to turn down the fan over the dining room table so the paper napkins stay put and how to light up the screened porch for evening chats. After a few tries, we figured out how to adjust the water temperature in the outdoor shower. The dishwasher and the washing machine are becoming friendlier; the televisions (each with multiple remotes) are beginning to cooperate. All in all, the space for our crew (kids, grandkids, and assorted friends; we’re 8 today but it’s a moving target) is generous, light, and airy. I think the new place is a terrific upgrade; her jury is still deliberating.

Despite the changes to habitat, the traditions of the summer ritual have remained largely the same. We schlep chairs, towels, and coolers, shovels and buckets, even a plastic wading pool to the beach in the morning and schlep it all home again in the late afternoon. In between, we bake under the sun, plan meals, take a dip or two, chat, nap, read, walk—everything everybody else does at the beach. In the morning, our chairs are lined up to face the sun, but by afternoon, they’re circled to facilitate the lazy conversations that mark our fortnight at the beach. Much is discussed but little is decided. Decisions are hard to come by in this group.

There is also another change this year: there’s a new beach home for another branch of the family. This space is large enough to accommodate another whole host of kids, grandkids, aunts and uncles, as well as various out-laws and friends. (I think I counted 17 resident heads over there today, but I could be wrong; after all, a lot of those heads were in motion. One thing is for sure: the number of heads will surely wax as the week goes on; waning is another matter.) You might think that two houses could make for twice the problems, but that doesn’t seem to be the case—yet. OK, we have to play bumper cars in the narrow driveway several times a day and must remember whose bike is left at which house but these are minor details in the overall campaign.

As for the other traditions of the season, some depend on the weather, others rely on various appetites: what night do we want to barbecue the ribs? When shall we pick crabs? Rinse off your feet! Whose turn is it to make an ice run? Who’s crying? Has anybody seen my phone? Where’s the backgammon board? Can you go pick up 6 baguettes? If it rains tomorrow, maybe we should take the kids to Funland. If the adults decide to go out for dinner tonight, who’s going to babysit? Baby? “HAS ANYBODY SEEN THE BABY?!?”

As Captain Yossarian might once have said, “And so it goes.” We’re adapting to our new spaces and retaining our old habits—I guess it can be done! Who knows: maybe we’ll even be bold enough to incorporate something new into the routine this year. Then again, maybe not. But I have learned this much: by the time vacation is over, I’ll need a vacation.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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