Memorial Day is the traditional "start of summer" holiday, but around here, this past holiday weekend always seems more like summer's beginning. July 4th weekend is the big holiday that all the summer people come back. Even if they no longer spend the summer in their cottages, or even get down for weekends, everyone always manages to be here for July 4th weekend.
Even more important than July 4th is July 3rd. July 3rd is the night for bonfires on the beach, illegal fireworks that somebody brought back from a trip to South Carolina, and reconnecting with people you haven't seen in a year (and won't see again for another year). July 3rd is the day for getting rid of all the dead tree limbs littering up the yard, or possibly all the scrap lumber for those who built a new deck. In our younger days, July 3rd was one long epic adventure, hauling loads of wood to the beach, finding a center pole, grabbing sub sandwiches for lunch, and sneaking two liter bottles of wine cooler down to the sand via elaborate paths through the overgrown bluffs. As we got older, we relinquished the fire building duties to the teenage crowd and showed up for the pyrotechnics at dusk.
This year, the sheer number of June storms had wreaked havoc on the beach. So much sand has been washed away that at high tide, the water comes right up to the retaining wall. Hence, very little room for bonfires this year. On top of that, darkness falls around 9:00 pm, and high tide comes at 9:30. Very little time for pyrotechnics this year. As we walked along the narrow strip of sand, looking at the tiny pyres going out from the incoming waves, it felt different. Like a grand tradition had changed irrevocably.
The teenagers no longer seemed so earnest in their efforts to make July 3rd unforgettable. They sat on the jetty, texting their friends and ignoring the chaos around them. Old friends sat on porches, rather than the beach. People checked their watches and started for home before it was even dark.
I wondered if the teenagers would have such fond memories of July 3rd as I do. Where was the epic adventure? Where were the truckloads of wood, the solemn goodbyes to the porches and picket fences we had grown up with? Where were the endless treks up and down the beach, looking for the couple of friends that had somehow gotten separated from the group?
And just as I was thinking that everything had changed, Jay F showed up and started yelling at all the kids before getting into an argument with the cops. Oh, I had forgotten about Jay F! Jay F was always yelling at us when we were 17, chasing us through the trees on the curving paths to the sand. Jay F was always trying to take control of the bonfire and insisting he was the only person who knew how to light a fire. And every year, Jay F would get into a huge argument with the police before storming home, grumbling and swearing the whole way. This year was no different.
As I watched Jay F stomp off toward home, I realized that everything about July 3rd hadn't changed. Some years there's more sand, some years there's less. Some years the fires are roaring and some years they are small. All we can do is ride out the waves and search our own small stretch of sand in for any treasures the tides have left us.