At six a.m. Saturday, I was sipping coffee in a deck chair above a sea oat-covered Florida sand dune, staring into the Atlantic ocean. The sun, already shining on Helen and Darren, lit lingering rainclouds from below to the color of smashed plum. The waves rolled and a good breeze pushed back the tops of palm trees. It would have been another perfect day at the beach, but our time was up, and by ten a.m. every branch of the family was on the road or in the air to nine U.S. cities in five states: Miami, Gainesville, Seattle, Bethesda, Columbus, LaGrange, Brunswick, Houston, and Baton Rouge.
This was the second incarnation of a sand-centered family reunion. The first was two years ago on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, attended by members of Shelly’s extended family, plus me. Shelly’s clan is full of surprises, an old-school American mix of faces and places, second and third generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China, with a smattering of us mongrels-in-residence; at its core, an urban Jewish matriarchy. No hard-edged multiculturalism here. Our histories are present in recipes and family memories, but our culture is the same. Even phenotypes are fading fast. Our kids are (simply) beautiful.
This year my people joined the celebration, renting the beach house next door, available by happy coincidence. With my brother’s family, our parents, a cousin and his wife, our grandmother and her friend, we filled out the family roll call and spilled the diner seating on to the porch. There were about twenty-five of us at one point, I think.
We took turns making evening meals, and here the melting pot ceased to be a metaphor. Jewish paella? Cuban shiskabob? Who cares? It’s all good! Cousin Dave’s homebrewed India Pale Ale goes well with any dish.
A lower deck with high bar stools and a glass-topped table lay in the long shadow of the house. Dave and I split a dark blue bottle of the good stuff there each night before diner. He said it was his best effort, which was easy to believe; any brewer would be proud of it. While our kids drug wave boards and plastic buckets in from the beach, we toasted our tremendous wealth: middle-class American opulence of family, food and a week’s vacation. We agreed few humans have ever lived so well.