Summers spent at the beach with lots of guests

The list of visitors was often long at the beach house

May 27, 2011|Jacques Kelly

We hatched our plan on a dark and stormy Saturday night. Seated around a cozy table at the Ambassador Dining Room, we verbalized what all of us had been thinking for weeks: exit Baltimore and make something out of Memorial Day weekend. All of a sudden, the list of guests kept growing, a testament to the patience of my host, an old friend who likes summertime company.

From Memorial Day through the start of school, my mother, like her mother before her, rented places alongside the ocean. Some years we were in a third-floor, walk-up, unair-conditioned spot under the roof. In the early 1950s, in Dewey Beach, we were in a wooden beach shack atop a dune. It survived hurricanes and storms. The place was primitive; family and a stream of guests loved it.

I think every window faced the ocean; my uncle Jacques slept in a hammock on the back porch. There were nights I got a canvas army cot. Life was casual. At night we would build a bonfire and toast marshmallows. The conversation centered on getting caught in a radar trap in Denton or Bridgeville. A couple of mornings a week a biplane flew over and fogged us with DDT to kill the mosquitoes.

Years later I learned that one cottage we rented, and filled to bursting, had been a one-time summer address of Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat.

As a child, I found the annual ritual of packing fascinating. We didn't go for a weekend — we left Baltimore for a summer. We took the old and the cast-off. We had summer irons, kitchen ware, bath towels, bed linens and of course summer wardrobes. We packed in cardboard cartons, not suitcases.

I believe the secret to a good party is the guest list. So too with a Memorial Day weekend. It's the people and the number of them you have under a roof. Some beach houses are large enough to give a guest a private room. Not ours. What you got was a bed with a name.

There was the midget, a stubby bed with a spongy mattress located in the living room. It was a favorite spot for nappers and those who drifted off in the evening while the rest of the household was still engaged in conversation.

There were a pair of beds tucked under the sloping attic ceiling. These were called the Left and the Right. These were singles slots and had good locations. They also gave the occupant a chance to observe what was going on in the rest of the room. You could also pretend to be sleeping but listen to everything.

My mother called a sofa bed the Green Monster. It was a very harmless couch upholstered in a tough emerald fabric. Its gut concealed a spring-loaded double bed. It was only used in a housing pinch. It also made a less than flattering noise when you opened it.

For all the years that Mom rented the attic, she never asked that guests supply their own sheets. She had a battered linen collection that she washed in the bathtub and hung out on some very high wash lines. She then marveled at the cleansing effects of the sun and ocean breezes.

Hungry? Mom was ready. Temperatures hit the 90s and the sun arched over the roof to punish the westerly side of the attic, the kitchen wing of the house. Mom had two main courses she delivered on a stifling day. One was roast turkey. The other was roast pork. Family and friends were never too hot to eat.

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