Each summer, we packed mom, dad and the four of us kids and all our earthly possessions into a 1972 Chevrolet Impala for our annual vacation. Though the trip was barely 200 miles, it took longer than some of the Crusades.
Our destination, selected for reasons lost to time, was Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. Though the date was determined months in advance, my father would procrastinate until the morning of departure. At the appointed hour, he would adopt a murderous expression and find a number of household and automotive repair tasks that suddenly required his undivided attention.
We would watch, bags packed in nervous silence, waiting for the storm to break. After a barked shin or bashed knuckle, he'd explode with a fearsome shower of temper and strong language. And then we'd load up the car and hit the road.
Though he repeatedly sailed across the submarine-infested North Atlantic in World War II, he wasn't much of a navigator on land. One summer we towed the family boat on a lively tour of Baltimore's public housing projects. The story is still passed down through generations, to great hilarity at the Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace, of the six goggle-eyed white people dragging that trailer around in circles, driving off in a huff, then returning for one more lap half an hour later.
Upon arrival at some mildew-scented rental, my father would take his surf fishing rod and a cooler full of beer and walk purposefully to the sea. That would be the last we would see of him. He would return, days later, sunburned and crusted in salt and happier than I ever saw him.
The rest of us would find some patch of sand on the crowded beach, wade out into the waves and set out with dogged determination to drown ourselves. I wasn't much of a swimmer, and and never had more than a farmer's tan. At the beach, I went for the major first day full-body burn, cooking myself until the flesh came off in satisfying translucent sheets a few days later. My sister slathered herself in cocoa butter and slowly baked in the sun until her skin was the color and texture of an old piece of Samsonite luggage.
I visit now with SPF 35 applied generously to forehead and nose, in spite of low clouds threatening rain. There's a cold wind blowing in off the Atlantic and both water and sand seem grubbier than I remember. But families spill out onto stolen hotel towels and kids frolic in the choppy waves. Dolle's Salt Water Taffy still stands as a cornerstone on the boardwalk, but I resist the sugary urge to pull out my fillings.
I've never been much for fishing, or vacations for that matter. Too busy. But what I would give to be out here, drinking a beer and casting out into the surf with my old man.