Nearly every summer of my childhood, we spent a week with my family in Ventura. We crammed 15+ people into a three bedroom house. We showered outside, often in pairs to save water and keep sand out of the house after hours at the beach. We collected shells and wiped tar off the bottoms of our feet, knowing we’d track more in the next day. We spent hours upon hours in the ocean. Stopping only to eat a snack and catch more sun before diving back into the murky seas. Some of the best (and admittedly worst, but that’s a different story for a different time) memories of my childhood were made here.
I remember, with great clarity, waking up early in the morning, when all my cousins were sleeping, and finding my grandma outside. She was an early riser and the two of us would go for walks alone to search for sand dollars before everyone else woke up and found them. I remember fondly taking short cuts to the donut store through the wall by the liquor store to bring back breakfast for the family. I even remember the time my grandpa told me that if my cousin and I walked the recycling all the way to the recycling center we could keep all the money we earned. It ended up being less than $2 for a half an hour’s work. My grandpa had a great sense of humor.
Last week, for the second year in a row (the third time in 4 years), we made our way to Ventura with a segment of my family- my mom, my aunt and her family, my sister and her family and our family of 4.
My boys spent 8 days with their cousins, who they rarely see, but adore. We made our way onto the beach every single day we were there and we spent hours upon hours in the sand and in the ocean. The boys squealed with delight as waves washed over their ankles. Eli cried actual tears when we had to leave because he, like me, never wanted to go back home. I barely saw my kids outside of the ocean because they were so busy spending every spare moment with their cousins that it was almost like I was childless, but in a good way.
And all I could think was how much my grandma, who started this tradition, would’ve loved to see it. Family was paramount to her. It was the reason she woke, the reason she lived and breathed. She only met one of the cousins that was at the beach this year because of her sudden death 14 years ago, but I know without hesitation, that she would adore all of them. She would love, like we all do, Eli’s sweet nature and his gentle spirit. She would love Addie and Will for their endless spunk and persistence with all things. She would’ve practically levitated with joy hearing her family sing together at church, her 12 year old granddaughter leading the entire church in a psalm. Everything about it would’ve delighted her and I think we all felt that.
It felt so very appropriate that we were there for what would’ve been my grandparents’ birthday (they shared a birthday, which also, oddly always seemed appropriate). On July 26th, they would’ve been 91 and 90 years old. My grandma has been gone for 14 years, my grandpa for 2. My heart stills aches with their absence, but I was just so deeply happy this week, living the memories that they gave to us, the traditions they started.
For my grandparents’ birthday, we walked to my great aunt and uncle’s house, which is where we stayed in the summers when we were kids. We ate piles and piles of spaghetti and laughed about the memories we had made there and about our big, wacky family. It was joyous, but I think we all felt exactly what was missing. It was a strange conflict- the joy from the family that was gathered and the sorrow from those who couldn’t.
We are home now, rejuvenated and relaxed. Tan and a little chubby. But happy. I hope that someday my boys will remember this trip and the ones before and after it, the way I remember my childhood beach trips. I hope that each summer they will count down the days until we leave, the way I always did. And I hope that the legacy of love that my grandparents left us will take center stage for decades to come.