|First day at Stone Harbor. First drawing of the vacation.|
|Lylah and Katy encouraged me to resist the urge to add color.|
|I had an especially fun time watching gulls this year. Also, that cool crab shell was lots of fun to find a draw.|
|This was one of my favorite mornings. I visited The Wetlands Institute -- which, by the way, is not in the middle of the river, as it seems here. That's just the way I composed the page.|
|On our one rainy day, we drove to Millville, NJ, site of Wheaton Arts and the Museum of American Glass.|
Yes. No. Maybe. Consistently, anyway.
I cannot say when first the Sandstroms landed at the summer idyll called Stone Harbor. My memory is clouded with an earlier vacation to Surf City, farther north, which happened during the summer that "Windy" by the Association was playing a lot on the radio. I was young enough to be reading a Bobbsey Twins book, which I believe just happened to be about the beach.
But I know Stone Harbor became a favorite spot for my parents, who took us there when we were kids and then again when everyone was growing up and starting to have their own kids. During that time, truth be told, the visits were marbled with obligation and with some difficult family dynamics. But they were good, too, because I can see my mother in her bathing suit and cheer, and even my dad in a somewhat more relaxed mood than usual.
So in addition to being perfect in the way an old-fashioned beach resort is, Stone Harbor also is to me like a silver bracelet spanning the decades. (I've always had a thing for charms.) I collect my summer beach memories and hang them on this one perfect chain.
One memory: On a breezy night in perhaps early August of 1985, I walked the beach with my brother Greg, who was four years older than me and, in our twenties, seemed to be finally becoming my friend. On our beach walk, he gave me some good brotherly advice about a boy. Well, a man, actually. Greg was clear-eyed and correct in warning me off, and I remember feeling comforted to have him looking out for me.
The next day I drove him to the Philadelphia airport so he could catch a flight somewhere for work.
Those were my last conversations with him -- on the beach, and in the car to the airport. By September he we was gone.
Memory two: Friday night, just two sultry days ago was I write this, Carlo, Katy, Lylah and I went to the southern tip of the island, where shorebirds nest and you can see Cape May in the distance. You have to walk a path through a thicket of shrubbery and sea grasses to get to this vantage point, and on this night you also had to run a gantlet of little bugs of some sort. But we got to the head of the beach in time to see the orange ball of the setting sun stretching across the blade of land and bounce its light off the waves of the Atlantic.
Sand pipers and gulls scuttled and fished in the foam. We took a bunch of photos with Lylah's Nikon and our phone cameras and the light and the air seemed perfect, and everyone was glad I'd dragged them out there, and Lylah was happy that she'd finally gotten the photos she had tried to get all week.
Is Stone Harbor the place where I think most about my family? Yes, I guess it is the place where I think about them all in a joyful way. The constancy of the surf gives me comfort against the feeling of how fleeting it all is.
We drive 500 miles to dig our toes in the sand and catch a shallow little body-surfing wave under the watchful eyes of a new crop of life guards. We drive 500 miles for ice cream at Springer's and to stare at the hermit crabs at the Five and Ten.
We drive and we drive and we drive, and then we get there just in time to snatch these moments of bliss wafting by in the salt air. We gather them to guard them, and to hang them on the chain.