I returned to Bellefonte last weekend after two weeks at the beach, grateful that for yet another year headlines along North Carolina’s Outer Banks didn’t read “Middle-aged woman all washed up.”
During our stay, I ventured into what were, based on increasingly frequent and alarming media accounts, shark-infested waters, rode some waves on my boogie board as the self-proclaimed “Oldest Woman Out in the Water” (which I just now realize creates a fairly apt O-Wow acronym), slathered on sunscreen and enjoyed carefree, uncomplicated days that melted into each other.
It was an uneventful, relaxing two weeks, a luxury in spending time with some of my favorite people in the world — my parents, aunt, husband, brothers, sisters-in-law and nephews (Disclaimer: Those are in no particular order of preference or affinity — it should come as no surprise that after 10 or more hours of traveling and battling traffic heading invariably where we are, it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes or so for us to start getting on each other’s nerves, which is just part of the fun of a family vacation).
Two years ago, in the midst of the frenzy that always precedes this annual beach trip (the triple-digit to-do list, the packing that defies the laws of physics and all mathematical certainty related to the area of a clam-shell car topper and the square footage in a Jeep’s cargo space, the planning that encompasses running around Centre County to purchase everything from a dozen “fabulous prizes” — more commonly known as crap — for Bingo Night to plastic leis for the pool party to bags of books that are perfect reads when on the sand), I had a meltdown.
We’re not talking about a little stress and a few choice words. We’re talking about a full-throttle, jumping-up-and-down meltdown that, in the end, was over nothing more than a few choice pieces of nylon and elastic.
That year had been especially frenzied. Weeks before we were leaving, I had gone on a shopping spree at a local greenhouse. But cold, rainy weather for days on end (sound familiar?) had put a damper on my planting plans. Which was why, two nights before our departure, I was out in the driveway in the dark planting flats of water-logged flowers. Blindly, I thrust petunias and other posies into hanging baskets, pots and planters, patting down the dirt and hoping the light of day would reflect kindly on my efforts.
The night before heading to the beach a glitch with my computer kept me at the office late, so late that when I finally made it home I had to decide whether I wanted to stay up well into the middle of the night and do laundry or just pack dirty clothes and use the washer and dryer at the beach house. I opted for sleep and in the morning stuffed a plastic kitchen trash bag with shorts, T-shirts and underwear. I was mortified at the thought of some calamity along the road that would literally reveal all of my dirty laundry.
But that was nothing compared with the fiasco that followed. We were leaving for two weeks at the beach, and I couldn’t find a single swimsuit. For 20 years, they’d been stashed in the basement in an oversize tote by the ironing board. Sometime in year 21, I had been inspired to zip them all into a plastic bag, which I promptly shoved into the bottom of a closet and immediately forgot about.
That morning I ranted. I raved. I strung together unprintable words in ways that to this day I’m pretty sure have never been uttered in quite that order. And, as I thought of the horrors that would await me once I reached North Carolina and had to actually go shopping for new bathing suits, I started jumping up and down wailing, “You don’t understand — this is going to cost hundreds of dollars and hours of humiliation.”
Forty-eight hours, 500 miles and two loads of laundry later, I was spending my first full day at the beach nowhere near the water. Instead, in the sanctity of a dressing room in a store oh-so-cleverly called Birthday Suits, I was involved in the aerobic exercise of trying on bathing suits, an activity that, unfortunately, at this point in my life is more like trying to squeeze sausage into a casing.
After a couple of hours of the worst type of shopping for much of womankind, I had scored a couple of marked-down suits (not being up on beach fashion, I don’t know what made these look so 2012 in 2013, nor did I care). It wasn’t all that bad and could have been much, much worse, and the rest of the vacation went, well, swimmingly.
This year, aside from the shark reports, there was neither drama nor trauma.
As I romped in the water in my new/old 2012 bathing suits waiting to catch a wave, I crowed to my 14-year-old nephew, “Am I not the oldest woman out here?”
Cole’s eyes dashed across the water, assessing the competition, or lack thereof.
“Well,” he said, “you are unless we add a couple of the others up together.”
Do the math. See if I care. I’m suited up and will race you to the water anytime.