Everybody has their own beach rules.
You can spring from the same set of loins, but it doesn't mean you "do" the beach the same way as your kin, a fact of which I'm reminded every time I share someone's beach time with them. The past few days have been at a cottage called "Flip Flops" with a couple of my sisters and various members of their clans.
We couldn't be more different beach-wise, at least in most ways.
Oceanfront is a must for me, while she's okay with oceanside, which is still considerably better than the sister who rents in the woods on the Sound side. I want to hear and see the ocean every minute of every day I'm there.
I wouldn't think of using air conditioning ever (hell, my cottage didn't even have window units until two years ago), but especially when I'm surrounded by salt air and breezes, while my sister cools her beach house to meat locker temperatures. Walking in, hot from the beach or wet from a shower, is unpleasantly cold.
Every cottage needs a screened-in porch in my opinion, yet my sister only requires a covered porch, although I will say that this year's did at least have a view of the ocean. I said nothing when she began the day by slathering anti-itch cream on all the bites on her ankles from last night's porch session.
They like to be off the beach by 4:00 while my favorite beach time is just beginning then. Maybe it's the art historian in me, but I can think of no richer, more saturated colors in summertime than the last few hours before about 7:00, after which the evening can officially begin.
And what folly is this? My father instilled in the six of us the absolute need for binoculars at the beach, yet they don't bring them. So all the strange ships far out in the water, the dark schools of bluefish just under the surface and playful pods of dolphins have to be scrutinized from afar. What can a person learn from that distance?
Where we agree is that time spent at the beach means time spent in the ocean.
Knowing today was my last day there and breaking every mother's rule about eating and going in the water, I finished my lunch, wiped the crumbs on my legs and headed directly into the ocean just behind Sister #4's family.
Nephew #1 eventually joined once the left and it was just us when three dolphins surfed the waves directly in front of us. As many times as I've seen them, I'd never been closer. Yet he headed back once he realized his beer was getting warm onshore.
Left alone in the brilliant green water by myself became almost a meditation.
Up to my neck, with no one around to talk to, it occurred to me that this was why doctors used to send recovering patients to the seashore: the gentle exercise of staying above the waves, the warm yet still refreshing water, the briny air all combined to make me feel utterly relaxed but also strangely invincible.
After a while, Sister #2 joined me in the ocean, saying I'd looked pitiful out there by myself. Beer gone, Nephew #1 returned, only to crack us up with his Nature Channel impersonation as a pale, young woman who'd been floating on a paddleboard nearby attempted to awkwardly stand.
In the muted voice of a golf announcer, he intoned, "Yes, and now she's presenting her albino thighs and cheeks to capture the male's attention and find a use for her child-bearing hips...." before she took a nosedive.
So much for my meditative state.
By the time I finally climbed out of the water, fingers as wrinkled as raisins, it had been nearly two hours since I'd given over the rest of my day at the beach to the ocean and it was time for a quick outdoor shower to get the salt crust out of my ears before heading home.
Home, past signs saying "Blue Lives Matter," behind an 18-wheeler spewing dirt like smoke with projectiles (illegal, right?) which, given my open car windows, felt a lot like traveling in Pigpen's wake and uncomfortably close to a group of trucks with Confederate flags parked on the side of Route 460.
None of which, I'm happy to report, affected my ocean-induced state of relaxation.
I made it home in time to catch Afrikana Film Fest's outdoor screening of the 1988 cult classic "Coming to America" being shown up on the hill at Tredegar under the stars.
Guests were encouraged to recite lines, sing songs and act out and they did. Dogtown Dance even performed live when the palace dancers did their big number in the movie.
Honestly, I hadn't seen it since I saw it in the theater when it came out when we were all in Eddie Murphy's thrall and swooning to hear him say things like, "I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins."
It also didn't hurt to have - flashback! - Arsenio Hall say stuff such as, "Girl, you look so good, someone ought to put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit."
It's a compliment I know I'd be happy to hear, although it might taste a little gritty. I've still got sand in my hair.