We were a rotating pack of kids, depending on the week. Some of us were renters, others were lucky enough to have family-owned homes. For a few weeks every summer, we were beach neighbors, falling into routines we established over years of vacationing next door to each other.
When we first met, we were all in elementary school, kids from various inland towns who stayed in the same sandy spot every time, some for more than a decade of summers. We jumped waves together and dug enormous holes in the sand. We frantically fought incoming tides in an attempt to save our elaborate sandcastles, digging moats and dumping dry sand upon wet as waves encroached on our day’s work. Finally, always, the ocean would win.
On rainy days, we’d play Boggle and Scrabble on someone’s porch. If it was a low tide late in the day, we’d walk the mile to climb the black rocks as the sun set. Our days were filled with games of Wiffle ball, tag, and truth or dare. As the tide changed, we’d drag our chairs up and down the sand, adjusting to the water’s reach. Every night our parents called us into our houses. In the morning, we’d tumble back out and do it all over again.
Certain families never allowed us in their cottages, but we ran in and out of most. Anyone with a summer birthday shared their cake, and our families often grilled dinner and ate together on the beach. Every Friday night as fireworks exploded above us, we’d ooh and ahh in unison, passing the bug spray and Solarcaine.
We pestered everyone: the older kids, who stayed as far away from us as possible; our parents, whose permission and quarters we needed to walk to the arcade to play video games; and the lifeguards, whom we repeatedly asked about the temperature of the ocean water, as if it would ever get out of the 50s. Ignoring our mothers’ warnings about burning our feet, we’d jump barefoot across blazing pavement to the corner store to buy the newspaper and ice cream sandwiches, yelping the whole way.
One of our adult neighbors played guitar, and we relentlessly begged her to play for us. The second she’d step anywhere near us on the beach, we’d start asking if she’d play for us that night, knowing that if she agreed we’d get to have a bonfire and an hours-long singalong. One year, we celebrated Christmas in July and she played holiday songs as we draped garlands on dune fences and ate Christmas cookies.
During our middle school summers, we shifted gears. Having discovered heavy metal, we wore concert shirts for bands we dreamed of seeing and memorized their songs, wishing for cable at the beach so we could watch them on MTV. We bought rock magazines and took their personality quizzes, earnestly believing the results. When we weren’t obsessing about music, we rode nauseating amusement park rides, played Skee-Ball, and squeezed into photo booths, posing for strips of blurry pictures. Our conversations revolved around what high schools we might go to and our current crushes.
And then, high school. We got licenses, summer jobs, and hung out with school friends instead. We saw less of one another each summer, never all back at the same time. We’d grown up.
One fall storm, the ocean beat us a final time, decimating our rentals, ending our beach neighborhood for good.
Some beach friends stayed friends and we still meet there every summer, amid the houses that remain standing. Now, some of our kids are summer friends, too, sharing sand space and surfboards.
The games we played those long-ago summers never prepared us for this: our cottages long gone, our own kids together but apart, a virus forcing us to distance ourselves from one another on the beach. But we learned beach friendships make the best summer memories, and no pandemic, no destructive ocean tide, can change that.
Stacey Curran is a writer in Wakefield. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.