I don’t know how “family vacations” work for other people, but we came through one successfully a couple of weeks ago.
Families are a bit like nations. Each member has its own personality, temperament and goals. Sometimes, there are conflicts within and without.
Our group included my wife and me, daughter Katherine and husband Adam, rising college freshman Charlotte and 14-year-old grandson Wade, who live in St. Petersburg, Fla. Olivia, a rising junior at Bard College, is serving as an intern with Greenpeace in Washington.
We settled into two condos at Indian Beach’s oceanfront Windward Dunes high rise near Salter Path.
During our five days together, I heard no voice raised in anger, no complaint about food, TV choices or recreational itineraries. There were frequent dips into swimming pool or ocean, long walks on the beach, bicycle rides, tennis and golf for father and son. Once, Adam arose at 6 a.m. to participate in a three-mile run in Beaufort.
All four participated in a unique attraction in which they were locked in an “ escape room” of a building at Morehead City. Their challenge was to search the room for clues on how to escape.
After the prescribed hour, our foursome had to be rescued.
The area abounds in good restaurants, but few tourists visit the Emerald Isle-Atlantic Beach area without dining at the famous Sanitary Restaurant, a landmark since 1938. The restaurant, which seats 550, is steeped in history, seamanship and good seafood.
While there, I was enthusiastically greeted by jovial John Tunnel, the restaurant’s goodwill ambassador who has worked there for 71 years. His first assignment was cutting off the heads of fish.
I sent the foursome to Beaufort’s historic cemetery to visit the grave of “the little girl who is buried standing up.”
More than 200 years ago, a couple and their 11-year old daughter, Abigail, moved from London to Beaufort. As the little one grew, she became more and more obsessed with visiting the city of her birth.
Despite her mother’s protests, the father, a sea captain, finally granted the child’s wish, reassuring the mother that he would return her safely.
On the return trip, Abigail became ill and died.
Instead of burying her at sea, the father arranged to preserve the body in a barrel of rum. When the mother saw her husband carrying the barrel, she knew her daughter was inside.
Abigail, standing up, was buried in the barrel.
Since then, tourists, especially children, have left flowers and a wide assortment of gifts such as dolls, hula-hoops, photos and stuffed animals on the grave.
Obviously, this is not the fishing season at the beach. I didn’t see a single angler the time we were there.
A few years ago, a fisherman without fish could visit a certain Morehead City fish market and buy a big fish. The proprietor would instruct the customer to stand at the far side of the room. The owner would then toss the customer a big fish.
“Now you can go home and brag to your buddies that you caught that fish without having to tell a lie,” he would say.
I was surprised to find the beach so sparsely populated by sun worshipers during the peak season.
When I mentioned the decline to a local resident, she said wistfully, “Yes, our beach attendance is off. Yet Wrightsville Beach and Myrtle Beach are packed! I guess folks are looking for more excitement.”
I assured her that I didn’t come for excitement. I enjoy a long, clean stretch of sea and sand with room enough to stroll the strand without stepping on people or having to wend my way through what looks like Tent City.
As we drove homeward, I was, as usual, caught up in the mystique of Eastern North Carolina.
There is a haunting loneliness in the landscape that seemingly stretches to the horizon with vast acreages of soybeans, cotton, corn and pine fields.
Here and there in the vastness, a farmhouse stands like a lonely sentinel, a reminder that yes, there is life amid the isolation.
A visit to the beach is a reminder of our state’s wide diversity, a confirmation that it is indeed the “goodliest land under the cope of heaven.”