Chances are I was the only one reading Don Quixote on the Rehoboth boardwalk at 3:30 on Thanksgiving. I wasn’t the only one there, however. The beach and the boardwalk were bustling with people walking off their dinners, either in advance or after the fact. It was chilly, 43 degrees according to the big thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue and the sky was mostly overcast, with bits of blue peeking out here and there. The clouds were thick and gray in part of the sky and puffy and white and just touched with pink in another, as the mid-afternoon crept on toward late afternoon. I was sitting on a bench near Santa’s cottage, so passing conversation between parents and excited small children centered on exactly when Santa would be there. (His first shift of the season was the next morning, at eleven. I’d know that even if I hadn’t checked myself because I heard it so many times while sitting there.) Another popular topic of conversation was the teenage girl skim boarding in the ocean and whether or not she was cold, even in a wetsuit. I took it all in happily, the lovely light turning the sand a pink-gold color and the passing words of strangers strolling down the boardwalk, as I dipped into Don Quixote and Sancho’s adventures.
When I returned to the house, I found Beth and the kids reading and playing electronic games in warmer conditions, in front of a cozy fire. I warmed up there for a while and then went to the kitchen to trim the Brussels sprouts and mix them with goat cheese and spices and slip them into the oven where the tofu turkey was already roasting.
Last year was our first Christmas not spent with one extended family or the other (12/23/13, 1/3/14) and this was the first Thanksgiving we spent as a family of four. Since we also usually spend a weekend in early to mid-December in Rehoboth to Christmas shop and visit Santa, Beth had the genius idea to do the Christmas shopping trip on Thanksgiving weekend this year. We could stay three days instead of two, and we could get an earlier start on our shopping. (I rarely buy much before this trip.)
The kids had a half day on Wednesday, so we used the afternoon to pack and we left late Thursday morning and arrived around two on Thanksgiving, with enough time to unpack and for me to go down to the beach before beginning to assemble the dinner we’d partially cooked and frozen at home the weekend prior.
By six we were sitting down to fake turkey and real mashed potatoes and stuffing with mushroom gravy, rolls, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and two kinds of pie (pumpkin and pecan). Beth was pleased to have made our first Thanksgiving dinner without either of our mothers co-ordinating it (or as she said, “providing adult supervision”). I was pleased to be with Beth and the kids and at the beach and I said so when it was my turn to give thanks. Beth was grateful for to have time to spend with all of us, Noah for his “awesome” family and the Internet, and June for family, friends, and “being alive.” After dinner we watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on what was for us, a very big television, though it might be standard these days. I’m not exactly up to date in these matters.
We had breakfast—lattes, juice, pumpkin crepes, oatmeal pancakes, and a bagel—at the Gallery Espresso at their new location at an out-of-the-way office park three and half miles inland. We’ve eaten there for years, but as proximity to the beach is one of my main criteria for choosing restaurants in Rehoboth, it’s possible I might have never crossed its threshold again if not for the fact that Noah loves their crepes and considers a trip to the beach incomplete without them. (For context, when my favorite pizza place in my pre-kid days moved half a block and lost its ocean view, I never went there again.)
Gallery Espresso never had an ocean view, but it was only a couple blocks from the ocean and open in the off-season and the kids liked it so we’d often eat there multiple times in one trip. That probably won’t happen as often now. I don’t think we’ll abandon it entirely though. For one thing, the pumpkin crepes are really good, but maybe more importantly, the owner recognized us when we came in and exclaimed over how the kids had grown in the over a year they’ve been closed for relocation. Something similar happened at Café a Go-Go last spring. In some real ways, Rehoboth feels like home.
Being in Rehoboth Thanksgiving weekend meant a couple things. It meant we’d be there for the downtown tree-lighting and holiday sing-along Friday night, which would be a new experience for us. It also meant we’d be shopping on Black Friday, which we’d never done in Rehoboth. (And I haven’t done anywhere in years.) I wondered if the crowds would mainly converge on the outlets on Route 1 and not on the downtown stores where I do most of my shopping.
The crowds were not too bad, at least not in the morning at BrowseAbout Books, where I picked up a large pile of books I’d preordered, plus a few more I picked out in the store. There and at the Tea and Spice Exchange I helped the kids do most of the Christmas shopping before lunch. They were both really focused and decisive. The older they get the easier this task gets. I suppose the next step is independent shopping, but we’re not there yet.
We hit the boardwalk Candy Kitchen around noon, and as Santa was right outside it, June went to tell him she wanted a doll dressing-making kit for Christmas. The line was short and she was in and out quickly. I am not entirely sure whether June still believes in Santa or not. She claims to, but she also asked us (and Noah) in advance what it was okay to ask for, as if she wanted to make sure it was something she’d really get and as if she knew who would really be buying it.
After a lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers, I did some solo shopping and found the stores more crowded. Not quite mobbed, but close. The kids stayed home and Beth went to Walmart for a Black Friday protest. (She works for a union, so she does this every Black Friday. I always think I should go with her and never do.) Before it was time for everyone to meet for dinner I took another walk on the beach where I settled on the sand and read some more of Don Quixote. I was trying to get hallway through the second volume for my book club meeting on Wednesday. I could only manage three chapters before I was thoroughly chilled and needed to get up and walk some more.
We had an early dinner at Grotto, which was packed with all the many other families who wanted some pre-sing-along pizza. We got there just in time to avoid a long wait. They had characters from the Grinch painted on the front windows, with the faces left blank so you could take photos of yourself. June wanted her photo as Cindy Lou Who and Noah agreed to be the Grinch. Next they went through the restaurant inspecting the Christmas trees sponsored by local charities and made their donation choices—a children’s charity for June and marine animals for Noah. They based their decisions on a combination of the causes and the aesthetics of the trees.
We arrived at the sing-along seven minutes into it but it was quite cold, just over freezing and twenty-three minutes just long enough to admire the boardwalk lights in the shapes of sea animals, a light house, etc, and to sing secular Christmas music in a big crowd of people, dancing a little to keep warm. There were colored lights twined around the street light poles and white lights on the little trees growing in the median of Rehoboth Avenue and lighted wreaths over the doors of some of the stores, but the big tree was dark until seven sharp when there was a countdown from ten and it lit up. Noah claimed to be disappointed that “tree lighting” did not mean setting the tree on fire.
We headed home, walking past the longest line for Santa I’d ever seen on the boardwalk (maybe a couple dozen families). Once home June had a warm bath, and we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Beth asked if I’d had a good first day of the Christmas season and I said yes.
It only got better the next day. I wanted to take it a little easier, as it was our last full day at the beach. I still had shopping to do, but as I told Beth, we have the Internet at home but we don’t have the ocean, so from a little after ten until 3:30 I was mostly walking or reading at the beach, with occasional breaks to warm up in a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a hotel lounge. I rented a table with an ocean view at the Greene Turtle for an hour. (They also provided hot tea, mozzarella sticks, and a big salad, but I didn’t consider that to be the most important part of the financial transaction.)
While I was roaming the beach and boardwalk, Beth took the kids to the outlets to shop some more and then Beth and June went to Ocean City to skate at a hotel rink, while Noah stayed at the house to do homework.
As I was walking along the boardwalk on my way home, I noticed a pair of causally dressed parents with two very dressed up children on the beach. The boy was wearing khakis and a suit jacket and the girl was in a sleeveless (!) red satin dress. When they started taking pictures I immediately realized what was up: Christmas card photo. And then not ten minutes later I saw two little boys in coordinating cable-knit sweaters posing in front of the dunes and I wondered—why have we never taken our Christmas card photo on the beach? We’ve used boardwalk shots—from Santa’s house or with the lights— but never actual beach shots. I decided to remedy that on this trip.
Once home I had a nice soak in a warm, bubbly, scented bath, courtesy of the bubbling bath oil Beth got me as an early Christmas present. The house had a big clawfoot tub and as soon as I saw it, I regretted not packing any bath oil, so she bought me some because she is nice like that.
Beth and June got home from skating as I was finishing up in the bath and June wanted to get into the water, which still had a fair amount of bubbles, so I got out and let her soak in it awhile before draining the tub.
For dinner we had Thanksgiving leftovers again. This time, at Beth’s suggestion I made the mashed potatoes into potato pancakes and I added some homemade applesauce to the feast. We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas in front of the fire, and Noah and I read from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before bed.
The next day was sunny and dramatically warmer. Highs were predicted to be in the high fifties, but it felt warmer. After straightening up the house and doing some packing, I took the kids to the beach for a holiday card photo shoot. I made June wear her red coat because she was wearing green leggings and Noah was in a green shirt and vest, but once we were finishing taking pictures, she shed the coat and the kids set to work making a sand volcano. There were artistic differences, however, and June ended up banishing Noah from the construction site. He and I stood and watched the ocean and I tried to help him brainstorm a topic for a speech he needed to write that used some of the same rhetorical devices as Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, and Che Guevara. (Every one in the class is using Thomas Paine—he chose the other two orators.) We were at the beach about an hour and a half and we only left because Noah was getting hungry for lunch and we were hoping to hit the road by two o’clock.
Beth and the kids had lunch at Grotto, while I squeezed in some last-minute shopping and then had lunch back at the house. Noah had some trouble getting out of the house and then the kids and I went down to the beach one last time to say goodbye to the ocean where June got hit by a wave that filled her boots and soaked her leggings and left her in tears until Beth found her some dry clothes and she changed in the car while I blocked the window. So it ended up being closer to three than two by the time we left Rehoboth. But traffic was not bad at all and our timing meant we were driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just before five, during a beautiful sunset, with a pink sky above and shiny silvery water below. Sometimes I leave the beach despondent about returning to my landlocked life and sometimes I leave the beach still a bit drunk on the beauty of the world and mindful of everything that makes me thankful. This time it was the latter.