By: Marie Williams
We always woke early, earlier than the sun. It was cool and dark, and my cousins and I spoke with hushed voices as we grabbed our bags, packed the night before with swimsuits and colorful beach towels, and ran outside to wait. In the kitchen, my mother and her sisters were making sandwiches, wrapping treats in wax paper, and pouring fruit juices into large coolers. When all the preparations were done, there was good-natured arguing about who would ride with whom.
My Aunt Betty took one car, and my Uncle Barry drove the other. I have perfect recall of how it felt with the windows open, sitting in the backseat, crammed in with two or more of my cousins, swaying back and forth as the car maneuvered the winding road--smelling the ocean before it came into view. Sometimes I napped, my head resting on my cousin’s shoulder, other times I listened to the adults in the front seat, talking and laughing. Feeling that they were happy made me happy as well.
At the beach, there would be more laughter as my aunt and uncle teased each other about their driving ability (or lack thereof), making excuses for not "winning the race", and vowing to be the victor “next time.”I don’t recall how long we stayed – three hours? Maybe four? I do remember the sand between my toes and inadvertent gulps of bitter, salty water when I played in the surf. But most of all, I remember not complaining when it was time to leave because of a certainty that soon enough we would do it all again.
When I think about what was great about my childhood – and many, many things were – I think most often about those things I did with my loved ones repeatedly, like Beach Sundays. "Beach Sundays" weren’t actually called that in my family, they were just something we did. Now that so many years have passed, those happy days all blend one into the other seamlessly, a warm and comforting memory of being surrounded by people I love, focused only on enjoying time together. Today, my cousins on whose shoulders my head once rested have spread far and wide. We are in different countries, pursuing different careers, having and raising babies, speaking infrequently, and seeing each other even less. We are no longer playmates, and some of us are no longer even friends. But I feel as deeply connected to them as I did then, and take them with me always.
As I go about creating my own life and raising a daughter, I often wonder whether she will have similar occasions to recall. I know that she is a happy and spirited–an always-laughing child–but beyond that, I want for her what I had – traditions that create a deep sense of knowing what will come next, and knowing that it will be good. Positive family traditions are different than mere good memories; they speak of caring enough to take time away from the business of daily life, acting in common purpose, and honoring shared roots.
In our modern world, taking that time away is much more difficult than it was when I was my daughter’s age. A day is too long to return a phone call, an e-mail that goes unanswered for a week is a slight not readily forgiven, and finding space and time to simply be together can be challenging. But boy, is it ever worth it. In those sometimes awkward moments when I first meet one of my cousins after being long parted, when I wonder with sadness whether I know them at all, all I have to do is mention Beach Sundays and watch as their face opens up into a smile._________________________________________________________________________________________________ Photo Credit: Sarah_Ackerman via Flick'r.