Beach sleeping, `family style'

Vacation: Accommodations at the ocean were great, as long as you didn't mind curling up on the Green Monster.

July 17, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

I had considered slipping out of town this weekend, but when a friend of mine with a house facing the ocean called to say my bed would be the floor, I thought better of the idea. As muggy as Baltimore may be, I'll stay right at home. I've had too many nights trying to bunk down in overcrowded vacation homes.

I guess it goes without saying that a family vacation means just that -- no privacy, 12 to a room and dubious horizontal back support.

In the early 1950s, we had a cute little house in Dewey Beach, Del., built atop the sand dunes. I spent my third and fourth summers there and can still recall those Friday nights when weekend company rolled in.

Aunt Dorothy Croswell arrived via Carolina Trailways coach. I was already tucked away, lulled fast asleep by the sound of the Atlantic's waves. When I awoke, Aunt Dorothy was occupying my roll-away cot (no prize), and I had been transferred to a canvas cot, war surplus from the decade earlier.

At least I got a bed. I think my Uncle Jack took to a hammock off the back porch -- no doubt wet whenever a mist came in off the ocean. My grandfather -- and later father -- did their best to rent commodious summertime places that would accommodate their families -- and maybe a few friends. Non-family members were always a good idea. The presence of company held down the squabbles -- it's bad form to fight in front of guests.

One of our 1970s family ocean-side roosts was the third floor of a Victorian house on Wilmington Avenue in Rehoboth Beach. My mother called it The Attic -- and that's just what it was. The third floor, under the gables, of a summerhouse. Technically, it had two bedrooms, but I think, as the rental agents said, the place slept nine, family style. And, on many nights, it did just that.

My brother and sisters were old enough to work the summer there -- my sisters as waitresses at the Hotel Royalton and my brother Eddie at the old Henlopen.

I was on weekend-only status and often arrived via the Carolina Trailways in a coach that must have been the same one that carried Aunt Dorothy 15 years earlier. Sleeping space was assigned in order of arrival. If you posted there late, you took what was available.

That could mean being assigned "the midget" -- a short and spongy bed that doubled in the daytime as a sofa by the front door. It wasn't too bad, but late and noisy arrivals from the boardwalk tended to bang up against the mattress.

The worst spot was a sofa covered in a tough green fabric that opened up to reveal a mattress. One night my mother, who paid the rent on the joint, wound up here when some fancy company displaced her from her normal room. Upon awakening, she wasn't happy. She dubbed the couch the Green Monster, a name that endured in the family lexicon as a rotten sleeping site.

Last month, we had our 47th consecutive family trip to the ocean. My father selected a fine house on a dune overlooking the boardwalk. It had plenty of rooms. We all slept well except for the first night, when I decided to stay out past curfew and celebrate the Memorial Day weekend with old friends.

That night, I slipped back onto the property, approached the back steps and very quietly made my way up, only to have the place suddenly flooded with bright light. I hadn't noticed that our little ocean retreat was high-tech, and came equipped with a motion detector.

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