First rule of summer: never ever turn down an invitation to the beach.
This particular opportunity to spend a night in South Nags Head came courtesy of my #2 and #4 sisters who are down there for a couple of weeks. "It'll be like a mini sister trip," #4 said, referring to our annual gathering of all six of us.
To round out the group, #2 had her 34-year old son there and #4 had her 17-year old daughter. The two of them represent the oldest and youngest of the nieces and nephews in the family.
But talk about an odd quintet! At no point in our lives had this group of five ever spent time together.
The nephew and I bonded over old school beach pleasures. We were the ones who insisted that all the cottage windows be opened (gratified when later Sister #5 walked through the house inhaling the salty air from outside saying, "It smells like a beach house!"), that we spend time socializing on the deck together, that outdoor showers are the way to go (although this one had no wooden floor, just two differently-sized boards to stand on, making showering a bit of a balancing act).
My first order of business was getting in the ocean and the 17-year old joined me. There, we bonded over her recent decision to graduate high school a year early, something I had also done.
We did not bond over her shock at the explicit language on the first few pages of "The Color Purple," one of her summer reading book requirements, and one I have no problem with.
The ocean was rough when I arrived Monday around noon, the rip currents so strong that the ocean patrol had pulled three people out of the water just that morning, all people who'd gotten out too far and couldn't get back in.
One guy was a 17-year old from Nebraska and goodness knows, it may have been his first time at the ocean, but I'll never understand what makes people think they can do whatever they want in something as massive and strong as the ocean.
Of course I went in the water, just not too far out.
Most of the afternoon was spent with my two sisters catching up and talking a blue streak and occasionally one of the other two interjecting.
During a discussion of men, the nephew piped up, saying, "We don't mature," and then went back to his music, never having so much as looked up.
Sister #2 is a hypochondriac, and because we don't see each other that often, I'd forgotten how every little ache or pain is suddenly a Big Deal with her.
She's a smoker and she likes to eat salty food, so when her tongue began bleeding mid-afternoon, she was convinced it was fatal.
When no one would get as worked up as she was about it, she shrugged and said, "Okay, I guess I'll just Google "bloody tongue" and then make dinner."
Google reassured her that the top two causes for bleeding tongue were cigarette smoking and salty foods, but she still saw tongue cancer in her future.
We got a mess of seafood for dinner from a local fish shop and sat down to shrimp and clams with hot cornbread and the bounty of a beach vegetable stand: corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and sauteed squash and zucchini.
Best line from dinner: "You don't bring up uteruses at the table, Karen. You just don't."
Now I know.
The catch phrase quickly became, "Have a vacation, Mom!" as the niece and nephew kept reminding their mothers that they didn't need looking after at their ages.
I was having no problem having a mini-vacation, even deciding to stay an extra day and night when it was offered.
Because I usually stay about sixteen miles north of South Nags Head, the area was new to me. We were next to the Outer Banks Pier, which I hadn't even known existed, and the beach was extremely wide there with giant tidal pools and a huge sand bar.
The variable weather made for a day of clouds Tuesday, not a problem for me and the nephew, but the others mourned the absent sun.
Frankly, as long as it's not raining hard or thunder storming, I've got no problem being on the beach on a cloudy day. Every time a sprinkle came up, we just moved under the umbrellas and waited it out.
The ocean was 75 degrees either way, so what do I care if it's not a postcard-worthy sky?
During happy hour, the nephew interrupted out girl talk by saying, "I need a dude!" referring to the absence of his people. Have we been that bad, Sister #4 asked. "It has been pretty catty," he said with typical male understatement.
Wednesday dawned hot and sunny, making everyone happy except me because I had only a few hours before hitting the road.
Make no mistake, we had a big breakfast, then I took a walk with Sister #2 (and eventually #4 joined us) before we all took our chairs out on the sandbar for some morning chatter in the ocean.
While the nephew was lamenting how calm the ocean was, it was ideal for our purposes, a fitting ending to my mini-sistertrip.
Sweaty, sandy and sticky, I threw my beach supplies in the car and headed north, letting the beach radio station provide the final soundtrack to my getaway.
Driving up 158, it was Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
Help me make the most
of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Apropos. Further up, the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" came on just as I passed signs warning me, "Inmates Working."
Let's just say I like a day in my life better than a day in theirs.
Then it was Johnnyswim, the husband/wife duo (she's Donna Summers' daughter) I saw a few months back doing "Don't Keep Heaven Busy."
Skies changing, tides raising, ain't good enough
World spinning, all heaven is watching us
Don't keep heaven busy without me
When time comes, I move on, don't turn and weep
I'll catch up soon enough, wait and see
It was a terrific going home soundtrack.
For the first time on 168, I saw a sign saying, "Welcome to the Hampton Roads Wine Region." Who knew they had one?
Then there was a Tractor Supply store, with a sign announcing, "Chicken swap this Sunday!" I'll admit I had no idea people swapped chickens. I was learning a lot on my drive today.
The e-mail waiting for me from Sister #4 when I got home made me smile. "Kare, you were such a fun houseguest!"
I can't think of a better vacation compliment.