Last year on the 4th of July, I was serving overweight, heavily-accented southerners hoards of Bar BQ carrying the smell of smoked meat I don’t eat around in my pony tail. The year before that I was driving 14 butt-numbing hours from Florida to Nashville only to unpack my entire life into a new house in the dark sans fireworks or Bar BQ. Every year of my life before that I was at the Happy Days, my grandparents’ home in Seagrove Beach with as much family as could make the trek.
The beach house and The Fourth are a package deal. To me, the only way to truly celebrate is by watching the Seaside community parade, sunning in Eastern Lake’s opening to the Gulf, eating DIY sandwiches and homemade brownies with pruned beach fingers, and sprinting into the ocean in response to the inevitable fireworks injuries. In the years that I spent the holiday anywhere else, the distance and void were palpable. I could physically distinguish the difference without my encompassing family.
When I moved to NYC I recognized a similar tug inside with the extra distance between me and anyone I knew and feared another solo 4th would be more than I could take after months of job searching and transitioning to financial independence had worn on me. Ever a fan of family bonding, my sister-in-law jumped on my bandwagon campaign for a reunion. To our surprise, my father, ever the person to see traveling opportunities for what they really are…expenditures…complied. Sure, my mom undeniably played the “What’s the worth of seeing your children?” card, but nevertheless this was a miracle.
Right as I was gloomily accepting the reality that staying in town and working would benefit my bank account and my sleep habits, Pops gifted me a one-way ticket to the Happy Days! (See: Expect the Unexpected) Ok, more of a subway to subway to shuttle to flight to connecting flight ticket, but still, an expensed trip to a family reunion on my favorite of holidays. (A fire scarred Thanksgiving, a fruitless dig ruined Christmas, and my sister steals my birthday every year.)
I felt right at home as soon as my dad was late to pick me up from the airport and my brother offered me the front seat, which he was already sitting in—seatbelt fastened, door shut. Nothing more comfortable than consistency… I was warmly welcome by the view of Eastern Lake from the bridge that always indicates you’ve arrived and could not have been happier to see my grandparents—and eat their food.
The weekend, though short, allotted the perfect amount of beach time made quite entertaining by my one-year-old niece. Most importantly I met her one-month-old baby sister for the first time, who was plain precious. I have to admit I had that shaky, uncertain way of handling an infant when I haven’t interacted with anyone with less than two-digits in their age since Christmas.
My brother, sister and I could finally fill each other in on our new jobs and catch up on each other’s ever-differing lives. I heeded advice and encouragement from my he and my grandparents’ wisdom and shared an early magazine release with everyone. Savannah’s first encounter with a sparkler made for one of those nights that will remain permanently etched in all of our minds. You can’t top a kids face when they’re being encouraged to play with fire, or a family’s giddiness to pass down traditions. She won’t soon forget that grandma’s house means an elevated sugar intake, uninterrupted attention, all the fascinations a beach entails and once a year on this enchanted day the perfect combination: fireworks and the Day family.
True, a piece of my trip was tainted by the sadness of the oil spill’s impact and my encounter with its most recent victims, which you can read about on the F&S site. But nothing can ruin this place for me, because its magic isn’t in the sights or attractions, the picturesque little beach communities, or the trendy bars and tropical restaurants. The spell is cast by the feel of the breeze, the sound of the ocean, the smell of sunscreen and the making of memories only found here in this place, my sanctuary.