the beach house

A rental for a week for your family, but a house to someone else. The evidence of the family who owns the house is all around. The selection of beach reads on the bookcase in the hall, a small sampling of games with missing pieces in the living room, pictures of the grandpa who worked his whole life to buy the house, artwork from local artists, and the choice of curtains that don’t match the furniture. You enter a rental house like you enter a hotel. You know it is not yours yet you will treat it is such for the next week all the while ever thinking about the family who calls it “our beach house.”

There have been houses that don’t lock things away. The fishing pole of the grandpa who bought the house when he retired hangs on the wall beckoning you to use it. So, you’re father does and on the first cast into the ocean he breaks it. It’s too bad the original grandfather is dead or your father would have apologized to him. Your whole family is a bit embarrassed, but your mother’s friend who rented the house said we were free to use the poles so your guilt is lessened a bit. Still, too bad about ole granddad.

There are the houses that seem to want to share the experience with you. They leave out a guest book and brochures about the area. You glance at them. There have been visitors from as far away as Ohio or as close by as New Bern. Your brother calls the travelers from New Jersey and New York Yankees. You call them Yankees too, but not out loud. They tell stories of their weeks, how much their family loved the house, the good weather they were fortunate to have, and they note their favorite restaurants. You wonder why they choose to write what they write. The guest book is quaint, but you are happiest about the tide chart on the bulletin board, now you can start your vacation.

Exploring the house, you can’t believe that people share their space so openly with others that they will never meet. The coffeepot and spoons and beds and pillows and sinks and bathtubs and deck chairs and lamps are all communal property. There are fragile things about and when your niece knocks over a lamp and it shatters feel sorry for the family again, but then you think that the owner’s expect these things; beach houses are for children too. You wonder how all the house was stocked. Did the owner’s really like the dark, dense fabric on the overstuffed couches or was the whole ensemble on sale? Did they pick up the appliances at a thrift store or are the leftovers from the family 1970s orange kitchen? Your family discusses the flaws in the house, in the decorations. They have ideas on how to make it better, what to paint or how to arrange the furniture. You are quick to remind them that it is better than any of their beach houses. Oh yeah, they don’t have beach houses. No one is amused.

Some houses have a washer and dryer and this is a luxury. You do a million loads in one week, more than if you were at home and partly just because you can. You go home with clean clothes; this you realize is quite nice. Other houses have a linen service and beds are made for you and towels are provided. You feel a bit pampered by this, but you’d rather have the washer and dryer back.

There are houses with air conditioning so strong you end up with a stuffy nose going from hot to cold to hot to cold. There are houses where your family breaks the AC and has to have the unit replaced midweek. You are again a bit embarrassed, but realize you are just helping with the maintenance of the place. Then there are houses with no air conditioning at all, just ceiling fans and the hope of good ocean breezes. These are your favorites. These remind you of camping in childhood. This is what the beach feels like to you, heat cut by cool breezes off the water. Days when there is no breeze you thank God for the invention of ceiling fans. It takes a good day to get use to the heat and the breeze, but when you do, you don’t ever want air conditioning at the beach again. You sleep in little clothing and one sheet, you like the simplicity of this type of house.

In your mind you are always building the perfect beach house. It is oceanfront with enough bedrooms to house you immediate and extended family. It is not new, it is old and well worn, and there is a lot of wood. The oceanfront deck is partly covered and partly open to the elements. There are rocking chairs and a hammock. There is a table for eating and playing cards. A walk stretches to the dune where just before the stairs begin there is another small deck with seats built in and a shower hose for rinsing off. The house has most of its bedrooms on the first floor. Upstairs, at ocean view and deck level, there is a family room and kitchen and dining room in one space. There are many large windows. The dining room table is big enough to sit 12 and there are folding tables for extra company. You want your whole family here and you create a space that allows for it. Couches in the living room turn into beds. There is a good stereo with speakers throughout the house and the deck. Oldies beach music is always on. Every bedroom has a well-made ceiling fan and can be closed off to the rest of the house so that windows can be opened at night. There are beach chairs on the deck and in the garage, waiting for the sand. They are wooden with cloth backs. There are rafts and lifejackets and paddleball sets and kites and bachi ball. The house is always full of people.

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