Four-thirty a.m. As a child, once a year I’d rise to the sound of my parents alarm clock buzzing at the early hour and would shoot from between the sheets as if they were on fire . The alarm went off other mornings, but it’s ringing never meant there was an adventure in store for me. My sister and I would scramble to use the bathroom before our three brothers were shaken from their beds by dad and chased after by mom. Afterwards we’d rip into the outfits we meticulously chosen the night before, grab our suitcases and head to the car. The sky’s center was always as black as the well in the hollow. One star always dangled on the canvas and sky’s lower edge burned with the rising sun.
This event occurred the first weekend of August every year for fifteen years. It was always a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we called it our summer vacation to ATLANTIC CITY, even though it was the only vacation we ever took.
Within the hour, my two uncles and aunts, and my twelve cousins filled the two cars who met us at the edge of the drive. We, the older cousins, were truly filled with excitement. We had worked doing odd jobs all summer and saved in anticipation of spending our earnings anyway we wanted. I always came home with a ceramic horse.
We never had reservations. While my dad and my two uncles would go inside the hotel and acquire rooms for all twenty-three of us, we’d sit in the car. Our necks grew damp as the morning sun rose and beat down on the car, glaring off its hood. French fries, candy cotton and fish wafted in the air. The buzz of the big city, the roar of the ocean beyond the boardwalk , the call of “Watch the Tramcar, please” made our legs twitch. After a three hour ride, we wanted out.
Three days is what we had to enjoy another world. A world where hundreds of Miss America’s had strolled the boardwalk. Where a white stallion dove into a swimming pool. Three days is all it took to etch into my memory the feel of the hot sand as we hopped toward the cool foam of the waves, the laughter shared as we romped in the ocean and Uncle Lee lost his teeth, and the way my blood rushed searching for my little lost cousin George among the crowd of thousands. To this day, the Coppertone Baby signifies a carefree summer for me and the scent from the lotion will take me back to the innocent time. And, to this day, I haven’t found ice cream sandwiches as good as the ones we devoured on the AC beach, the sandwiches laced with sea salt and sand.
I think I’ll go poolside today with a good book and crack the lotion bottle.
I’d love to hear one of your summer vacation memories.