It's summer, and the ocean beckons

Maryland families make their annual pilgrimage, and everything is at once different and the same

July 28, 2011|By Jennifer Lynch

A'ight, Bal'more. It's that time of year again. Time to go downy ocean, hon.

I have been goin' downy ocean for 38 years, never missed a year. As a child, vacation was the best week of the year. The anticipation was even better. For weeks leading up to the trip, my mother would bake dozens upon dozens of sweets. She and my aunt would go grocery shopping and fill two or three carts full of food until they were so overstuffed that our job as kids was rush around behind them like ball boys and girls, picking up any stray items that fell out as they tried to steer.

They would bake hams and roasts and slice them thinly into lunchmeat and make casserole upon casserole until our freezers were as overstuffed as our little tanned bellies would soon be. My grandmother would take a special trip to the UTZ factory downtown to buy large tins of chips and pretzels that stood half my size. As kids, we would have to dip the entire top half of our bodies into the tin while our toes strained to keep contact with the floor to get the goodies at the bottom. Everything we scored would be soggy, stale and sandy. We didn't care. Everything we ate tasted marvelous because the rules were different on vacation.

My grandmother would save the empty tins and fill them with homemade Chex mix. It would take her weeks to make enough batches to fill the tin. Once the tin was unpacked from the car, the kids would immediately attack like locusts, leaving only buttery fingerprints, dark burnt Chex pieces, and peanuts for the grown-ups to enjoy.

My father made mix tapes and bought batteries for the boom box so we had the perfect soundtracks for every occasion. My uncle spent hundreds of hours, and dollars, preparing his boat and accompanying gear. My aunt would mutter under her breath a string of curse words and something about a hole in the water where her money went. My uncle would bow his head sheepishly and run his hand through his hair, saying, "Aww, the kids love it." And we would cheer. It was the statement that ended all arguments.

The adults would get up at sunrise to pack the car. They would pack and repack three cars and a boat under the purple sky until everything fit. We would caravan down Route 2, pulling over from time to time to make sure everyone was still together. I never understood why, when we had been doing this for years, the adults were still confused about how to get there.

Once on the road, my father wasn't big on stopping. If we had to go to the bathroom, we had to alert him when we first got the sensation in hopes that we wouldn't pee ourselves by the time he finally decided to pull over. For this trip, he liked to get over the Bay Bridge before stopping to get breakfast. That meant we ate in Easton or Ocean City, depending on when my mother finally put her foot down.

Once in OC, the kids would tumble out of the car and go scampering in all directions like little puppies, rolling in the sand, eating unwrapped candy left lying around. Our parents had the dubious task of wrangling us while simultaneously hiking suitcases, coolers, boogie boards, kites, sand toys and a myriad of other junk up several flights of stairs.

We still go to the beach every year. My dad still makes music mixes (now known as playlists) and my uncle still brings the boat. The house still swarms with people as they catch scent of my mother's famous lasagna. The kids still fly kites, play with glowsticks, and wait for the tractors.

We haven't shopped in advance since OC welcomed grocery stores. Gone are the small sundries store where my father got his morning coffee and the rocks on the shoreline where we used to play. Bodyboards have replaced Hawaiian Punch rafts, iPods have replaced disc players and boom boxes, Kindles have replaced bags of paperbacks. We have said goodbye to some and welcomed others as our family continues to grow and change.

The scenes are the same, but different. The children have become the parents and the parents have become the grandparents. The little things may change, but the family remains the same ... and the anticipation is still the best part of vacation.

Jennifer Lynch is a school psychologist living in Catonsville. Her email is

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