Nishant Choksi for Reader's DigestWill someone please explain the beach to me? What if you’d never seen or heard of a beach and someone suggested you spend your holiday at a place where there’s a large, hot, windy expanse of ground-up stones, bordered by freezing water in such a state of agitation that going near it is like being targeted by Russian police water cannons at an anti-Putin demonstration, except the water has things in it that eat you? A place where your children will be fried until they blister, burst, and peel like hot dogs left too long on the grill? Would you go there? You would, I discovered, if your wife and kids insisted. So we rented a cottage on the beach.
On is a beach-cottage-rental technical term meaning “closer to the ocean than Cincinnati.” We had to drive to the beach. Or, I should say, we had to drive to the beach parking lot. The beach was north of Boston. The beach parking lot was someplace out near the Lexington and Concord battlefields. An Ironman triathlon is, shall we say, a day at the beach compared with getting to the beach from the beach parking lot carrying a beach umbrella, beach towels, beach toys, beach bags, and a beach picnic in a beach cooler the size of, well, the beach.
The sun shone brightly, like I care. The O’Rourkes possess the Hibernian complexion best suited to sitting in dimly lit pubs—a result of millennia of Darwinian selection among Hibernians sitting in dimly lit pubs. We were coated inch-thick in sunscreen, SPF 100,000. (This is what the labels on sunscreen really mean.)
Now, what to do at the beach? Panic? My ten-year-old son, Buster, headed straight for the agitated water. Buster swims like a brick. My teenage daughters headed straight for the lifeguards. Who wants a son-in-law with a nose covered in white zinc? How would that look at the altar in St. Patrick’s?
“A sailboat is a tiny version of living in a trailer park during a tornado and a flash flood.”
Turn seaward and enjoy the view? View of what? Nothing’s out there. OK, there’s a sailboat. After I get the beach explained to me, perhaps someone will explain sailboats. A movable domicile that’s blown around and leaks from both the ceiling and the floor—a sailboat is a tony version of living in a trailer park during a tornado and a flash flood.
Build sand castles? As a family, we have the same exquisite eye for design that guided the architects of the 1970s when they were building public schools, low-income housing, and minimum-security prisons.
Enjoy our picnic? The kids refused. “There’s sand in all the food.” They preferred the “Harbor Hovel” snack bar, serving blistered, burst, and peeling hot dogs.
After being rescued from the ocean several times, Buster spent the rest of the afternoon collecting flotsam and jetsam. And my teenage daughters went into the cute town to shop at cute stores selling cute things at acute prices.
On the way home from our vacation, the kids asked, “Can we come back again next year?”
No. I’m going into this beach business myself. Where we live, in rural New Hampshire, we have a freezing-cold pond. I’ll dump our supply of winter road salt in it and agitate the water with boulders dropped from my tractor bucket.
Our pond is short on man-eating sharks, but I can set bear traps on the bottom. We don’t have sand, but we do have dirt. And the “Pond Pit” snack bar will serve fried tadpole rolls.