Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflections and Sentimentality and Shit

I'm on vacation with my dad's side of the family. We have taken a beach vacation every summer but two since before I was born (literally - my mom went to Myrtle Beach while eight months pregnant with me), and even though the dynamic has changed quite a bit there are a myriad things that are the same.

We still rent a property - either a condo or house - each day journeying to the beach before lunch and relaxing in the pool until it is time to shower for the evening. We still stagger getting out of bed; my sister usually wakes up first and gets out to the beach by mid-morning, admonishing the rest of us to enjoy more of the day, while the last person (typically my dad) sleeps until at least noon. We eat at the same Japanese steakhouse each year and evaluate how full of personality the chef is compared to the guy from last year. My dad, uncle, and grandpa still argue over obscure rules in the board games we play until they are red in the face, as well as compare distance, gas mileage, and travel time (to nearly the exact minute) for the car trips down. We make a huge grocery store trip the first night of arrival and stock up on sugar cereal and ice cream bars, certain that we have everything, and then go to the store at least once more during the week.

Much has changed, for all the sameness. There used to be nine of us: my grandparents, my dad and mom, my uncle and his wife, and my cousin, sister, and me. Now, two divorces, one marriage, one death, and two remarriages later, there are eleven of us: my grandpa, my dad and stepmom with her two kids, my uncle and his second wife, and my cousin, sister, brother-in-law, and me.

We need more space, more food, and more beds. There are more middle-aged people than before, though the kids have all come of age; cursing and dirty jokes are permissable (and, in fact, somewhat encouraged). We cook in the house most nights and only go out on two, instead of every night. There is less of an emphasis on picking activities together and more on finding what one truly wants to do and inviting only the interested people along. I don't plan my outfits for every night anymore - I just show up with a few things to keep me entertained and know that that is sufficient.

I now pour rum in the Cokes I drink by the pool and order steak at the Japanese steakhouse instead of my old staple of shrimp. I still douse my food in yum-yum sauce, but at least think for a moment of the calories I am adding to the carb-fest that is already marinated in soy sauce and soaked in butter. I can still enjoy the food but find myself noticing the grime buildup on the walls, wondering how much the cooks make in tips, and evaluating the douchiness of the family at the table next to mine ("I was supposed to get the large sashimi and he was supposed to get the small! Oh, he has the small? Oh, okay! No, you can eat that one, Jim. It's fine!").

Then there is the island on which we stay, Hilton Head. The beach used to be my Shangri-la, a playground of pool toys and junk food every night after dinner. As a teenager it became more of a disruption of my "real" summer, but as it has returned as a welcome break from real life (thanks to the drudgery of full-time employment), the magic is gone. Just like the Japanese steakhouse is no longer the exotically authentic experience I once naively believed it to be, Hilton Head appears as nothing more than a tourist trap lacking any real culture or life of its own - a lame pseudo-paradise catering to doughy Midwesterners who think of any place with an ocean nearby as an unattainable Nirvana. (As it turns out, Nirvana costs money and time off work.)

What has also come with the vacations with family, however, is a renewed appreciation for the time to spend with them - time which is becoming more scarce - and for the fortune by which I came across the opportunity to even take a beach vacation every year. Growing up means I have to see and notice more, but that also means I get to see more. It means I can enjoy myself and indulge in pool time, but even more importantly can know that I'm loved and cared for by those around me. I knew all this before, of course, but had not yet met enough people who didn't have these things in order to realize what it really meant.

Once again, I am trying to evaluate what I lack as well as what I have in life, and I am finding more of the latter than the former - an attitude calibration, if you will. And while I am grateful for being on vacation for all the reasons mentioned above, perhaps the most important is that I got just enough time away from complaining about my job to realize it.

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