My Daughter Said She'd Burn This Book! -- by L. David Mark


Chapter 45 - Neat Things


      Whenever we went on vacation, I occasionally thought about the first settlers and how they carved a living out of a new land, with little of today's amenities around to help them. Like flashlights or tents or canned food (& can openers).

      Now "whenever" and "occasionally" may seem like a contradiction in terms, but they're an accurate description in this instance.

      You see, we vacation at the beach. And, for years, we alternated between the Outer Banks in North Carolina and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Both were nice beaches, very enjoyable, but completely different.

      On the Outer Banks, we rented various cottages in a community called "Southern Shores," which is a couple of miles north of Kitty Hawk and a little south of Duck, which is a teeny town -- growing now -- on the sound side of the Banks. The beach has a good surf and it's fun to ride in on rubber rafts. But it slopes off fairly sharply and there can be an undertow, so you have to watch it when you're swimming. The beach, which varies somewhat in width, has lots of shells and is bounded by sand dunes with sea oats growing on them. The cottages are just behind the dunes or across the road that parallels the sea shore. (Yes, we walked.)

      Sea life there is some dolphins out on the horizon "finning out" once in a blue moon & "sand dabs" (so once dubbed by my brother-in-law Gordon & it stuck as a family term; I'm not sure of the scientific term but they're little "digger" things that live in the sand at the very edge of the sea & if you scoop one up & let it loose in wet sand it will quickly burrow out of sight) & sand crabs that skittered back to their holes as quick as a wisp when you surprised them.

      In beach contrast, on Cape Cod we stayed near Dennis (except for my first visit, the summer after we were married, when three of our families shared this big cottage and Teri changed her mind about staying & we had to take her back to Taunton -- but that's another story).

      Dennis or East Dennis, I never really knew exactly where we stayed. I mean, there's Yarmouth & East Yarmouth & South Yarmouth and then there's Harwich & East Harwich & mid-Harwich for all I know, but the name of the town doesn't seem to have any relationship whatsoever to where its fellow-named towns are located.

      Take for instance, the "Dennis's." Dennis and East Dennis are on Highway 6-A on the north side of the Cape. South Dennis is in the middle of the Cape. West Dennis is on Highway 28 on the south side of the Cape, a little bit south of South Dennis. And Dennis Port, also on the Cape's south side, is just east of South Dennis & south of West Harwich & west of Harwich Port. I guess you had to have grown up there.

      Anyhow, we stayed at a complex of about seven cottages with a nice big grassy open space at one end where you could kick the soccer ball or play badminton or volleyball or throw a frisbee. All of the cottages were old-style New England "tiny." I mean cramped. No real room at all. We often vacationed with some of Mary's family, and since Taunton, where several of her brothers & sisters & their families lived, was just a couple of hours away, we always got a steady stream of visitors, some overnighting on the floor, some just down for the day.

      One fun thing we did a couple of times was to drive out to Provincetown -- or "P Town" as we called it -- up at the far hook of the Cape. When we first went there it was quite an art colony and I remember summing up my first impression of the place by saying that "1949 was the last time they sold a bra in P Town."

      The beach at Dennis was completely different from the one at the Outer Banks. The tides played a much more important role. At high tide on the north side of the Cape near Dennis where we were, you had a narrow strip of beach with hardly any waves --but you could walk out into the water for nearly a half a mile and still only be chest deep. (Marcos would have loved being here with MacArthur!) And at low tide, you had this vast expanse of sand -- again, almost a half a mile between where the beach started and where the sea began. The water was cold, since it was from the bay on the north side. But since it was so shallow, the top part warmed up pretty good.

      There weren't many shells here. "Shell art" was something reserved for the summers at the Outer Banks. (I usually brought home bags of shells, thinking I would do more when I got home, but never got around to it & then Mary would keep after me to throw them out until I finally did.) But the nice thing about this beach -- particularly when the kids were small -- was that it was a very safe beach, and when the tide was going out, islands would appear and rivers of water would run out. And when the tide was coming in, you could be on these same "islands" & then be gradually "swallowed up" by the sea.

      I used to make little towers of sand with a plastic cup or bucket, all marching in a row to the edge of the water, then watch them slowly erode as the tide inevitably spelled their doom. Or when the tide was halfway out, you could make a dam across one of those rivers and have all kinds of fun watching what the water did.

      And in a few hours -- or the next day, it was all gone and you again had this broad expanse of pristine sand. Only to be marred in a few hours by footprints crossing and the churned-up area of a volleyball game or frisbee or horseshoe throwing.

      And there was all kinds of sea life in those little rivers & pools. Tiny minnows sometimes. Snails, or snail shells. (Once we collected a bunch of nice big snail shells -- with live snails -- & then, before we left to come home, decided to boil the then dead snails so we could take the shells. And stink! -- oh my goodness, what a mistake!! It was a good thing we were leaving that morning! It's a wonder they ever let us come back!) Little fiddler crabs living in borrowed snail shells, skittering along. Big horseshoe crabs -- usually dead. Sometimes you could find big white clam shells, four to five inches long.

      But I digress. The point is that both of these beaches were where some of the first settlers of America arrived. The "Lost Colony" in Carolina is a case in point. And the Pilgrims stopped on the Cape before they made Plymouth Rock famous. So I would sometimes think about how these people managed, 3,000 miles away from home in a strange land, without much but their own wits and abilities to cope.

      Which brings me to some of the neat things we have in our lives today. I grew up for a number of years with an outdoor privy and kerosene lanterns -- so obviously indoor plumbing and electric lights are pretty nice pluses. But just in the last few years, we have seen some new conveniences -- little things, neat things -- that just make life a lot more pleasant.

      Like, you can buy stamps at the Giant. Most stores are open on Sunday. With your money card, you can stop at the bank money machine and get cash any day of the week at any hour of the day. (The only real occasion to go into the bank anymore is to get at your safe deposit box.) Cable TV & remote controls (even tho I don't have the latter). Voice alarms in your car that tell you "Lights are on!" or "Key is in the ignition." Keyless entry to your car (my '85 Maxima); that used to wow my thirteen-year-old girl soccer players. Call waiting, call forwarding, and voice mail. Microwave ovens. Word processors & electronic transmission of documents. Pop-top beer cans.

      Which brings me to perhaps the ultimate neat thing: Those little plastic "tweezers" things with the rubber tips that you use to select just one coffee filter! Now how does it know how to do that?

      That is really neat!!

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