DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane Brown
One of the benefits of living in North Carolina is our long, hospitable coast. From Corolla to Sunset Beach, miles of beaches with inviting names: Waves, Southern Shores, Emerald Isle. For more than 30 years, a group of friends and I have rented a house somewhere on the coast in the spring. Before the hoards, before full-season rates, before we have to even consider putting on a bathing suit. This year we waited until all of us were fully vaccinated.
Our gang has morphed over the years as some have moved away, a few have died too early, and we’ve made new friends. At first, we stuffed as many of us in each bedroom as possible, happy to share beds and bathrooms for a long weekend.
Now, all of us retired, we prefer to rent houses big enough to each have our own beds and bathrooms for a whole week. It’s also big enough that those of us who enjoy being alone can disappear easily, returning to the ongoing conversation in the large living room with renewed energy.
We still talk politics, recipes and relationships, but we go to bed earlier and get up later than we used to. Our beach walks aren’t as long, but our Pictionary games are as raucous and competitive as ever.
Our annual beach trip originally was multi-generational and included both women and men. Over time, we settled on an all-women group. It’s easier somehow. More relaxing to not worry whether the children and partners are happy. We’re taking time for ourselves, getting to ask: “What do I want to do right now? A walk, the jigsaw puzzle, a nap?”
We talk about everything. Our topics have changed, from boyfriends and birth control to hip replacements and the best end-of-life directives. We also talk about our partners, adult children, their selection of mates and grandchildren. It’s a relief to tell our stories, express our worries, disappointments and pride without concern that we’ll hurt feelings or be judged.
Our cuisine has changed over the years, too. Many of us used to be red-meat eaters, and we couldn’t wait for the sweet tea, hush puppies and fried shrimp at the local seafood restaurant.
Now we almost always eat in. We assign two cooks for each evening meal. For breakfast and lunch we are on our own — usually partaking of the abundant delicious leftovers from the night before.
Luckily, some of us like the challenge of catering to our changing palates and latest dietary needs. This year, one of the highlights was baked local seabass with roasted veggies. And for those who still eat carbs, sourdough buttermilk biscuits with ice cream and local strawberries for dessert.
Depending on the current interests and expertise of our company, we try new forms of entertainment. We’ve pushed back chairs to learn how to contra dance, because Bree is a dance caller. We’ve made envelopes from old calendars and dyed exotic Easter eggs. Peggy taught us how to do Zentangle drawings. This year, Carolyn led us in an improv class for beginners. I became a house on fire in one of the scenes. What fun!
We’ve rented kayaks and explored the sound side of our coast. More peaceful, less rambunctious than the oceanfront. When we rented at Emerald Isle, we delighted in the boardwalk into the tidal marsh and through the maritime forest in the Forest Service’s Cedar Point Park. Pileated woodpeckers and an indigo bunting crossed our path.
This year the AllTrails app suggested a trail under the tall bridge over the Inland Waterway in North Topsail. We gave it a try, but it looked like no one else had been there in a long time, so we turned back from the tall grass and faint muddy track.
Our group has become another kind of family over the years. Some of us socialize back home in a book club and a writing group, but some see each other only on our beach trips. We start off where we left our stories. This year, our pleasure in each other’s company was enhanced by getting to be inside together — to see each other’s whole selves, to hug, to see smiles and hear laughs without the impediment of Zoom or masks.
We hope next year we’ll be back at the beach again with the world returned more to normal, not having to worry whether the guy at the fish market is wearing his mask. We’ll be ready to cook for 10, nap when needed, and enjoy the gift of our lovely coast.
Jane D. Brown, who writes a monthly column for The Local Reporter, was a professor in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years. She and her family and pets live in Lake Forest.