Although there are some warm days coming and a few days until it is officially Fall, there is starting to be a chill in the air and we put on our sweatshirts for the first time in months yesterday. This Summer we had a great time visiting the beach, with our kids playing on the same sandy shores that my husband and I grew up on. After sixteen years of city-living though, our days as beach locals feel far away. We are now those tourists that we grew up observing, dragging our chairs, umbrella, cooler, and shovels across the dunes, then schlepping it all home again 90-minutes down the highway. As a child I took for granted living in a vacation destination and wondered why all these people trekked from afar to my hometown. Sixteen years removed from that destination, I see the appeal and find myself one of the shoobies making day trips to the beach.
Overhearing city-dwellers talk about how much they love September at the beach after all the tourists leave makes me cringe. I remember so many Septembers growing up, watching the tourists who own second homes on the island trickle in and out each weekend. The thinning crowds were a reminder that Fall and Winter were near and soon our towns would be ours again. Traffic lights would be turned off. Speed limits would be raised. Businesses would close. Homes would be empty. It would be peaceful. The buzz of the Summer would be gone though, and as much as the tourists would be out of our way, we enjoyed Summers on the island as much as they did. We mourned the cooler days ahead, the return to school, the fading tans. Those boarded up businesses were ours– friends’, parents’, neighbors’– and we would be unemployed, trying to survive until next season. So while September was certainly a transition, it came with mixed emotions. It was more than just a less crowded beach and lower humidity.
And yet I am now one of those vacationers, transiently supporting the economy, feeling some entitlement of ownership, as if years of my tourism are equal to living there and making a living there. The scars of Hurricane Sandy on my childhood home sting, but I did not have to survive them. My kids will never know what it is like to grow up in a tourist destination– factoring rental home turnover into your driving plans, learning to drive a boat before a car, surf reports as daily school announcements, and seasonal fluctuations in your hometown census. They will see it like the tourists we wondered about, loved, and hated.
There are so many amazing memories of those years growing up at the beach, but it did not take me long to recognize that I was destined for the city. At eighteen, I was eager to leave my barefoot bikini Summer for the busy city that never sleeps. That September instead of watching tourists leave, I watched them return to the city and every September since, I have spent on the other side. Although I sit removed by distance and time, as I hear tales of their beach rentals, I hear it as that barefoot bikini girl who worked at the bead store and had beach bonfires at night. I remember days on the bay, pulling starfish off bulkheads and picnics on barrier islands. I long for outdoor showers with muscles fatigued from swimming. I hear gulls smashing crabs on our dock. I remember the smell of low tide coming through my bedroom window and waking in a beam of sun. And I realize that no matter how long it has been since I left, it will always be home.