Martha’s Vineyard is the beach.

I didn’t realize how much until the beach was removed from the equation. With four straight days of cloudy skies and rain, we were just a family of four at cross purposes and grousing because we weren’t at the beach.

Carly Simon, one of the Vineyard’s most famous residents, wrote a song called “Rainin'” about crappy Vineyard weather In it, she lists things her family would be doing at the Vineyard if not for the rain. She was talking about endless days of gray skies and rain that make you want to sleep all day, eat chips and salsa at noon, and drink all night. That kind of weather.

Some people are sunny no matter the weather, but my mood is pretty contingent on the conditions. Sunny blue skies inspire and uplift me, making me want to walk the beach at dawn and soak up the sights and sounds before everyone else. Dark gloomy skies make me want to reach for the covers and sleep a little more, if that’s humanly possible.

I didn’t realize my Fitbit vibrates so often to remind me to move until confronted with four days of foul weather. It buzzes twice every hour to remind me to get up, though I don’t much care. I logged a total of about 450 steps before my afternoon hike every day, struggling to reach my 10,000-step goal. I had no idea anyone could be this lazy, but it’s not only possible. It’s true.

The beach is more than just sun and surf to my husband’s family. It’s the one time of the year he and his siblings come together to meet the newest members of the tribe, and to catch up. My mother-in-law Maureen loved the annual reunion so much that she used a summer group shot for her Christmas card every year. It didn’t matter that we were often in bathing suits and wet hair.

People used to remark on her family’s togetherness, but in reality it was the only time they managed to get together all year, and sometimes it was just for 24 hours. One year, it didn’t actually happen: we photoshopped my brother-in-law David into the shot. But you get the idea: it meant a lot to her that all her kids and grandkids gathered. As a mom, I understand. It’s wonderful to have all your kids in one place, even for just a moment.

Now that my in-laws are long gone, the “kids” have made it a point to keep the Vineyard the family’s touchstone. Two have bought houses on the island, making it their permanent residence. This makes it a lot easier to get together, though it’s different when people live here full time. There is not that pressing need to see each other when you know there are endless opportunities.

My kids look forward to the trip all year because it’s a chance to see their cousins from far-flung places like London. My daughter particularly enjoys it because as the youngest of the cousins on this side, she’s the coddled and indulged baby.

One night as she sat on a couch at my sister-in-law’s house, her cousin Katherine sat next to her, held her hand and stroked her head liked a beloved lap dog. It’s wonderful to feel that special, and I understand her desire to spend as much time as possible with this crew. I have fond memories of spending the last two weeks of August on Cape Cod with my cousins every year.

The beach is sacred in some families. My husband’s family has been going to the same beach on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard since the early ’50s. Their day is built around the beach: people begin arriving about 2 p.m. and stay until dusk. If you’re not there, your absence is noted and occasionally the subject of speculation: is there a problem or are you just having a moment and need a little alone time?

Some of the diehards bring lunches of cold cut wraps, Cape Cod potato chips and Pepperidge Farm cookies, a practice I stopped years ago. It made no sense to make, wrap, pack and haul sandwiches to the beach only to eat them immediately upon arrival. We now skip the picnic, wolfing down our sandwiches in the kitchen before embarking for the beach.

There are walks, books, boogey-boarding, seal sightings, the occasional football toss and sun salutation, but the main point is you’re on the beach with everyone else. You may not talk to anyone, but you’re together and that’s the thing. The beach is the glue that holds everything together, the straw that stirs the drink. Without it, well, we’re just a bunch of people on an island.

I have conflicting feelings about the beach – their beach. It’s deeply ingrained in the Curmudgeon’s past, part of him from long before we met. He spent his childhood on the sand and learned to swim in its surf. He partied with college and neighborhood buddies and romanced other girls before I arrived on the scene. It pre-dates me and always will. OK, I’m a little jealous.

It’s full of rituals that I’ll never understand and sometimes barely tolerate. To wit: after having lunch and swimming in the ocean, the Curmudgeon lays out his towel and sleeps for two or three hours every afternoon. No wonder I call him “Mr. Excitement.” I get it – he works hard and is tired – but there are few things more boring than watching another person sleep.

The beach is an insistent mistress, and at times I’ve rebelled. One year, I rented a bike and circled the State Forest every afternoon ostensibly to get ready for a charity ride, but actually to escape the beach. I was bored with it, with the routine that 30 years of doing the same thing every summer brings.

But now? I realize the beach is a treasure and should not be taken for granted. Perhaps I had crappy Vineyard weather coming to me: Mother Nature showing me who’s boss, so I’ll appreciate the beach in all her glory when the sun is out. OK, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m sorry. Now, can we get on with it?

7 thoughts on “Beaches

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