My girls were five and two the season we opened our bed and breakfast in York Beach. The same ages as my younger daughter’s children are this year. Living on opposite coasts but wanting the cousins to know and enjoy each other, my daughters planned a family vacation. Wanting their children to experience some of their childhood, we rented a house for a few days a few minute walk from Short Sands and the whole family gathered.
It is a poignant thing to be a tourist in a place you once lived. The similarities emphasize the differences in your existence there.
I used to ‘own’ the beaches. Every morning from late June through early September I would walk the surf early in the morning, sometimes late at night. I have gallon jars full of beach glass and shells. Lamp bases full of sand dollars. From early April when I began working at The Inn, maintaining, refurbishing, painting, papering, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, until long after Labor Day when I was doing the same, I breathed salt air, heard surf and bell buoys.
The ocean is a calming influence. I often thought it was the surging in and out of the waves, the back and forth motion soothing as lying in one’s mother’s arms in a rocking chair. Some kind of inherent memory.
York Beach was a perfect destination for relaxing. When asked what there was to do there, the answer was pretty much, “Nothing.” It was like walking down the road into a different time period. Unless one were out to specifically ‘exercise,’ one’s pace naturally slowed. There was rarely a need to hurry to get anywhere because it would always be there when you arrived. Regardless of how tensed and stressed a visitor was upon arrival, a day or two of this lack of necessity to hurry would strip away the pressure to move quickly.
There was time to sit on the porch and have another cup or coffee…or glass of wine or beer, depending on the time of day. Time to talk to strangers who quickly became friends in that atmosphere.
As owner-operator with two young children, things were not nearly as relaxed as they were for my guests. However, as a grandmother of three, I can’t say my visit earlier in the week was any less demanding. But in a far different way.
It was low tide in the mornings so we could do some serious tide pooling. (A tourist from the midwest once asked my husband what time the tide comes back at night…as if it goes out to work during the day and sleeps on the beach.)
I am not sure how to describe the mental sensation of explaining to a young child that you climb the more difficult places ‘like you go up a rock climbing wall.’ On the other hand, the 2-year-old who had not yet learned the technique for going up the climbing wall on playgrounds, was later able to climb the smaller one to the slides ‘like you went to the tide pool.’ There is a lesson there about life and cycles and similarities, but I haven’t quite worked it out.
The first day, we caught small crabs and periwinkles that would sometimes open up on a hand. We followed the paths made by periwinkles and snails, and found a wide path on the beach where someone had dragged something. It looked like a huge periwinkle path, and we enjoyed imagining together how big a creäture must be to leave such a track. I am proud of my super-brave granddaughter who never flinched at the idea of a gigantic sea dweller waiting at the end of the path should we ever reach the end!
When it was time to go home for lunch, we took the crabs to the sea and waited for them to find a home. As soon as they felt damp enough sand, they burrowed in. The other live critters were returned to the rocks. Only empty shells made the journey to the house.
The next morning, we had barely arrived near the water’s edge when Owen, without anyone seeing him, was up the rocks to the first deep tide pool. His mom quickly climbed up to him. Well, as quickly as she could go after taking a picture to document the feat. Drew, who loves water and had crawled all the way down the beach to get to it the day before, also decided he needed to climb the rocks. Fortunately, the first step was chest high for him so he was unable to go alone.
They caught bigger crabs and found a hermit crab with a bright pink and purple shell, obviously man-painted. Another chance for lessons. Hermit crabs find shells to fit them as they grow, rather than build their own.
Since Dad had missed the first morning, the kids were anxious to show him how the crabs dig themselves into the sand. However, these crabs were in no hurry to go underground or into the water. Instead, they scampered sideways across the beach. Huddling around us were other children who had not found their own crabs, but were reluctant to capture these renegades. Above, the seagulls had no such reluctance.
We had no intention of providing lunch for the birds, and the two biped kids spent delightful time shooing them away from the crabs. Eventually, we decided that to keep them safe, we must return them to their tidal homes. Back in the pail and up to the rocks they went. We could now wash our feet and travel home for our lunch.
We did all the town things there are to do. Ate at The Goldenrod, where both girls had their first jobs outside our inn; watched the taffy being made; went to the amusement park, and Fun-A-Rama. We walked up Freeman Street to see our old place. Adventurous folk took a walk down Long Sands one night when others were going to bed.There was a lot of playground and swimming time. All in all, a great family vacation time.
Still, it emphasized that I am now a foreigner. I sat on the front porch of my rented house and looked across the beach and rocks to the approximate point where I used to live. Only approximate because the ocean side has been built up since we left and even the roof and chimney of our inn is not visible. I drank coffee and began to write during a brief respite from enjoying my grandchildren. I breathed in the ocean air and listened to the beating waves. And knew the beaches are no longer ‘mine.’ I am enjoying them for a few days, but, then, as visitors do, I will leave. When you are a tourist in a place you used to live, you are far more aware than others that you are no longer home.