It has become a sort of tradition for my family. After the season has ended, and the crowds and the vendors and the noise have all returned inland for the winter, we rent a house at the shore. Last year we were, for a few days at least, nearly two dozen strong, taking over two houses and a large stretch of beach.
This year, we were just a few, with a visiting aunt and cousins staying near by. My parents rented a house right on the beach, and the rest of us followed them to the coast like the obedient children we are. From the deck, just past dunes dotted with yellow flowers and butterflies, was our very own private expanse of New Jersey shore line.
Mornings were spent breakfasting on the deck, watching the sun rise like a ball of fire over the horizon. That first morning brought an endless stream of dolphins swimming by, occasionally jumping out of the water as if to say hi. The days were spent on the beach, digging in the sand and looking for shells. If you are two and the ocean is the greatest thing in the world, incidental things like water temperature don't matter a bit. Adults sat scattered about in various states of covered up, reading and napping and gossiping. Kites were flown, castles were built.
The sun fell, and the layers were piled on. Mugs were filled, either with tea or with beer. We watched the moon and listened to the waves, wrapped in blankets and stretched on lounge chairs. Endless hands of rummy were played, none of them in much of a hurry to total a score of 500.
At night, the only sounds in that deserted beach town were the waves crashing yards away from the windows, and the midnight ramblings of my tiny roommate: "6789!" "Whatcha doin'?" And a late night jaunt that had him stuck and calling for help, on his hands and knees at the bottom of the bed, stuffed duck in hand. He never did tell me where it was he was going to, on that journey in his sleep.
We have all grown accustomed to, and now savor, that late-season week by the sea. The chilly winds having long since blown away the crowds, leaving us virtually alone in the town to make our own amusement. And a long stretch of beach, empty of people save for family.