Darlene's story: Now, these are the laws of the beach

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--Summer's almost over and I haven't gone on vacation yet and it feels a little sad. Everybody needs a vacation now and then. Otherwise, how could you ever appreciate going back home? When our kids were kids we had more of an incentive to plan at least one major trip during the summer, usually to the beach.

Where's the beach?

Ahh, yes, the beach. Fun in the sun, early-morning walks on the sand, building sand castles with your children, watching the sun dip below the horizon while sipping on a margarita, 30 people crammed into a three-bedroom house on stilts. Well, how else do you think we could afford to spend a week at the beach?

In no way do I mean to imply that these vacations were anything other than incredibly enjoyable and totally character-building experiences; that is, depending on which in-laws showed up that year. Of course, with so many people involved, there is necessarily a lot of planning that goes into making sure that everyone goes home completely satisfied.

In fact, an unstated code says that any member of the core family (those born into the family) or extended member of the core family (those who wish they were) who truly wishes to take upon him/herself the responsibility of arranging accommodations for the whole pack and choosing the place of residence for the one week out of the summer when 30 people spend their yearly specified monetary allowance to "get away from it all" (this usually is a member who was completely tissed over the last year's accommodations) may do so with complete cooperation from all other members of the pack.

All paying family members who give ample prior notice of expected attendance (either by sworn testimony or certified check) are welcome. This is the law of the beach.

Hunting season

The designated family member begins the house hunt sometimes as early as January to ensure availability in June. Back before the Internet and the concept of "virtual tours," it wasn't an easy task to find a suitable vacation home by studying a brochure that may or may not always be truthful in its advertising.

The house dubbed "Impossible Dream" may just turn out to be your worst nightmare. But, if it does (and it did), our family still has the responsibility to ourselves, and our children, to have a wonderful stay and postpone the complaining until we are all back home. Safely back at home, the baton is then passed to the loudest complainer, who then takes his turn at studying vacation brochures.

Absence of Emeril

We never would have been able to spend so many summer vacations at the Redneck Riviera if we had not become so frugal and budget-oriented. Not once in all those years do I remember going out to eat at a restaurant.

Why would we even consider it? Every night was like being on the set of Emeril Live. Each individual family was responsible for one evening's meal. Before we ever left home each family knew what he or she would cook as his or her special meal. It could be Mexican food, Italian, steak and potatoes, pot roast, fried fish. Anything that a family wanted to cook, if it was kosher and within reason economically, was accepted.

One huge shopping trip took place the second day of our stay on which all the needed groceries and supplies were purchased. If there were things we could bring from home and thereby save money, we did.

A working formula

As mentioned earlier, there were times when accommodations were a little close, but that was because we didn't come from wealthy families, and, if a brochure said a beach house could sleep 11, we could pack in 30. We knew how to do it. We had been doing it at home for years.

The formula was simple: Rent a large house, divide the costs. Sometimes, when the family went through an exceptionally lean year, we'd extend invitations to friends, neighbors, strangers off the street and sometimes even estranged family members. We had to. It was the law of the beach.

Not every trip to the beach was without its problems. In fact, I can't think of even one when we didn't experience some incident that made that particular vacation memorable.

There were a few times when due to stressful situations we did like any other family would do when a loved one does or says something we don't quite understand: We turned on each other like a pack of wolves. That's where the character-building experiences come from!

After all, we were there to help each other, and I'm sure I helped a lot of people.

Lessons learned

I miss those times. They were some of the best I will ever have. My children and I had an opportunity few others have. They learned that being at the beach doesn't necessarily mean living in a luxurious condominium and setting yourself apart from everyone else.

Beach trips mean doing what you have to do in order to be together--whether it is sharing pallets on the floor or watching out for each other while you're in the water.

Beach trips mean an opportunity for cousins separated by geographical location and cultural variations to bond in friendship for one week out of the year.

Beach trips give us all a chance to grab ahold of our past, and at the same time it gives us hope for the future.

Sometimes being at the beach means sacrificing a little to get a lot.

Beach trips give us an opportunity to look out for each other, and that's what it is all about. And that is the law of the beach.

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