Summer is over and autumn is upon us with a chilly beginning. As each summer ends I look back on it and search the days to see if I made the most of the long, warm days and the balmy nights. After a period of soul searching, I inevitably begin comparing the most recent summer with those gone by. The summers spent in San Diego body surfing, learning to sail, and coaching Little League teams. The summers spent with my family camping from the Mexican to the Canadian border and at times into both countries. And the summers spent in the Navy overseas in exotic places and scuba diving in exotic waters so clear I felt I was almost floating in thin air. Regardless how great the summer was or how it compared to so many others, none will ever compare to the summers spent at my Grandparent’s cottage on the Atlantic Shore in New Jersey.
We would climb into whatever station wagon that was the family car at the time and head east as soon as my father got off work on Friday. Even though it was only 800 miles from our home in Indiana, my father never drove straight through. Even if our departure was delayed to Saturday morning, we would always be treated to a night in a motel; two beds for my parents and the five boys in sleeping bags on the floor. And of course the motel had to have a pool.
Our ability to hold our breath and our determination lead us to have some pocket change for the toy store on the bay when we reached our destination. My father would toss nickels, dimes, pennies and the occasional quarter into the deep end of the pool and in a free for all dive we left the surface of the water toward what, at that time, seemed to be the depths of the ocean. Tired and sleepy we trudged off to the room with our treasure secure in hand to dream of adventures to come.
Upon arrival at the castle by the sea we were met by Grandma and Grandpa. After the requisite evening of family chatter and the obligatory fish dinner…caught by Grandpa earlier in the day…we were placed in our respective beds, tossing and turning as if it were Christmas, unable to wait for the trip to the toy store the following morning.
Grandma would load us into the Oldsmobile of the year and drive down the hill, through the town and stop in front of the palace where summer began. I don’t know why but I would always choose a pink rubber ball to have to spend my time tossing it into the surf, waiting for it to return, just to do it again.
When not tossing the ball into the surf, I would toss squid, the bait of choice, carefully attached to the hook as taught by my Grandpa, with hopes of one jerk for a blowfish or two jerks for a kingfish. Or was it the other way around? Doesn’t matter because a blue crab came crawling from the surf as I reeled my line in after the appropriate time of waiting for a strike. Grandpa showed me how to hold the crap and told me to take it to Grandma; a twinkle in eye let me know my Grandma liked blue crab. It was nice giving her a special treat that “I” caught; she put up with so much from five active boys, hell bent on getting into as much mischief as we could in two weeks.
There was fresh squeezed orange juice on the table in the booth at the far end of the kitchen. A large picture window at the end of the table allowed us to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, squinting through the blinding light searching for that days adventure. Out we went, never having to worry about cleaning up our breakfast bowls and glasses. Grandma took care of that as we dug in the sand and splashed in the waves that towered over us. My Grandma provided us with many tasty meals and taught us many lessons at the shore but there is one lesson that I value to this day…she taught me the value of a power nap.
One day after lunch she suggested that I take a nap to be rested for the afternoon. “I don’t need a nap,” I protested. “Then just rest your eyes,” she said, “I won’t let you stay there too long.”
I truly don’t remember the length of time that I “rested” my eyes, but I do remember that later I had more than enough energy to play away the afternoon and later that night lie awake for what seemed like hours listening to the adults laugh and talk in the kitchen.
The trips to the shore stopped the year my Grandma had her stroke. She and my Grandpa came to live with us in Indiana so we could help out. Grandma ended up having to go to a nursing home as her condition worsened and she needed more medical care than my mother could afford her.
My Grandma passed away during my tour in Vietnam and I was unable to attend her funeral and pay her my last respects. But she must have known that I was grateful for all the lessons she taught me and the gifts she had given me through the years…especially the well used gift of the power nap.