Last week, my mother and my three sisters and I and our families, including spouses, children, a son-in-law and a few particularly wonderful significant others, met at a big house on the ocean in Virginia Beach for a week-long family reunion. For most of our time there, we numbered 23. 23, my also particularly wonderful son-in-law remarked, more-or-less adults, which explains how 10 pounds of pulled pork and 15 pounds of grilled chicken and six pounds of ground meat for taco salads and four large trays of ziti and 36 (48?) hamburgers plus 15, I believe (although this I should definitely know, and you should definitely not ask why) weiners disappeared on successive nights as if a plague of locusts had descended.
We didn’t eat out once. The “kids” (13 to 32) cooked. They cleaned up after themselves, and after the old folks, too. We all played board games and cards and a few video games. We swam in the ocean.
It was loud. It was crazy. It was wonderful.
I loved everything about it, including the ocean. My family swam at Jones Beach on Long Island’s south shore just about every summer Sunday when I was growing up. When the water was really rough, we waited (impatiently, I might add) for my father to take us in, one by one. My mother was not much of a swimmer, but she loved the ocean nonetheless. On rare occasion she’d enter a calm ocean and float.
My parents both had/have significant physical disabilities. My father, who passed away two long years ago, had polio which affected one arm and the opposite leg; my mother had a stroke at nine years old that weakened her right side.
In the ocean, my sisters and I recalled last week, our dad didn’t have to depend on that weak “pin,” as he called it. He’d enter the water in a few long strides, pivot on his stronger leg and crash backwards into the surf. At that point he was free. Free of balance and strength issues, free to swim around with his one good arm and leg.
My son reminded me of him when he squirted water out of his fist like his Pop-pop used to. My daughter reminded me of him when she caught every wave and rode it in the farthest of everyone.
My husband and I have our own-family beach memories, as well. We started taking ocean vacations when our children were maybe four and six, alternating years with his and my family of origin. Those days were a lot more work for the grown-ups! Just looking at this photo makes me tired:
Good God, where has the time gone?
We bought the kids these funny little wet suits because the water in New Jersey is so cold. The cousin count that year was two girls, five boys. In the next six or seven years, it would grow to six girls, five boys. Eleven wonders. Eleven beautiful children we are so blessed, every day, to have in our midst.
“Blessed:” it was the word chosen by my nieces Amanda (1st child from right, above, doing something goofy with her hands and her eyes) and Gwen (for whom we would have to wait a few years). Amanda (our very skilled photographer–check out her website where she’s now selling the COOLEST ocean yoga pants you ever saw in your life, plus lots of other beautiful stuff) took and posted this 2105 reunion photo:
And blessed we are. By these children, and the people they love. By my mother, who loves us all. By our wonderfully game spouses. By my three sisters, especially my three sisters, whom I love more than I can say.
By my dad, whom we miss, terribly.
Yes, blessed: there’s no other word big enough. And no place but the ocean, perhaps, big enough to hold our hearts, our memories, our dreams.