It’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m at Crystal Beach, enjoying the beach house that my sister and I rebuilt last year. One of the pleasures — even joys — of having this new place is more room — and private room — to host family and friends.
Not that I couldn’t do that in the previous one, but it was only about 650 square feet in one room with a kitchen in it and a bathroom. You know the term “open concept”? That was the layout. It had a double bed, two twin beds, and a futon. If you wanted privacy, forget it. You just had to retreat into a book and your own head.
Here, though, in 825 square feet, Kay and I have 3 bedrooms, one bath, and a kitchen/living room. With a double bed in each bedroom (and a sleeper chair in addition, in one), and a double-size sleeper sofa, we can accommodate 9, depending on sleeping arrangements.
Sometimes we are here together, as this Labor Day weekend. Sometimes, Kay comes down. Other times, I’m here. We’ve both had friends stay with us.
And this time, we have had not only a friend but relatives.
I came over on Thursday, and our cousin Barbara and her husband Herb followed me; they’d been in Lake Charles overnight. Kay arrived a couple of hours after we did. Barbara and Herb and I had lunch, then rode down the beach for miles, looking at the beach houses and observing the many flocks of brown pelicans up and down the beach. Some groups of them were on the beach with terns and cow-birds. Others swirled overhead, dive-bombing into the Gulf to snatch fish out of the schools near the surface.
We rode, we stopped, we looked. We laughed a lot. There was a running commentary about the houses, the colors, the designs.
Kay had brought homemade tamales from Zwolle, Louisiana (home of the Zwolle Tamale Festival). We feasted.
Friday morning, coffee and doughnuts from Dannay’s. More laughter, more fun. Barbara and Herb packed up and left for Houston, where they were going to see their son play with the band he’s in.
By mid-afternoon, our friend Charles drove up. I’ve known Charles for 56 years — we moved into the Egan SunOil camp on his birthday in 1957. We started first grade together; we graduated high school together. Our parents moved houses onto lots across the street from each other when the camp was broken up. Now that all our parents are dead, we still have those houses.
Lots of time for tamales and cheese dip, naps, and various adult beverages.
Saturday was very slow and lazy. We did some shopping. We visited. We sat on the deck. But mainly we just hung out together. Didn’t want to waste our energy — we knew we’d be going to Galveston. That’s because last night we had tickets for a concert in Galveston. Going over about 5:30 was perfect — no lines. The concert was at 8; Robert Earl Keen played a solid two hours. By 11 we were back at Crystal Beach — again, no lines at all at the ferry. The timing was perfect — we drove right onto the ferry with no wait.
Over the last couple of days, lots of people have crowded the beaches here, seeking the last free weekend before schools really absorb them. I’ve avoided the beach — too crowded. Many of our neighbors have also come in, pulling out their golf carts and firing up grills. Music wafts in from many streets away at times. It’s lively, to say the least.
But us? We’re pretty low-key. We talk and laugh and eat and nap.
Today, we woke up whenever we wanted, drank coffee an diet Coke, munched on breakfast stuff. There was no agenda, other than a visit from another cousin.
For lunch, my cousin Carolyn and her husband Larry drove over from League City. Again more laughter and lots of chatter. We told stories about our family, about our mothers, our grandmother. Carolyn and Larry decided not to fight the long multiple lanes of waiting lines at the ferry and left to drive back via I-10 instead.
You can roast in those lines. And spent far more times than you want. I know; I’ve done it before, and will do it again, when necessary. Obviously, there were lots of people heading over here to the beach today. Another reason I’ve stayed home today, other than going out to lunch.
By afternoon, I was sleepy. I took my iPad and lay down under a quilt, read for a while, and dozed. Periodically, I’d get up, wander to the bathroom or kitchen. By six, it was time to rise and join the world.
In between, we watched television. This afternoon, for instance, we’ve watched several Alfred Hitchcock films. At least Kay and Charles have; I’ve napped. Dinner is over.
And Psycho is now on. Can’t stand the shower scene. But I watch nonetheless.
Tomorrow we’ll pack up, clean the house, and leave for now. Others will be doing the same. I know I’ll be back next weekend.
This house was built for such times. Not only for Kay and me. It’s a place where we relax completely. And we entertain.
Our house doesn’t compare to some others — even on our street. It’s modest. Others are much larger, more ornate, more expensive. But it suits us. Not too much to maintain.
One of the reasons I bought the original place in 1997 was that I could sit on the street in my car and hear the surf. I could see the beach. Once I saw the place from inside and the deck, I could seek the potential. True, there was no insulation. The plywood walls were dark. But it was close enough to the beach. And I could paint.
And so the place came to be mine. The furniture came with it. I painted. I bought some new dishes and brought things to make it mine. I bought sheets and bedspreads. With a television, a DVR, and a CD player/radio, it offered entertainment too.
I spent New Years 1999/2000 here with friends, watching fireworks and drinking champagne. Dad spent time here with me, with Kay. I have wonderful memories of our family here.
When Hurricane Ike hit here and left me with what I called “the lovely slab,” I didn’t really want to rebuild. Not then. But I didn’t sell the lot, either. I couldn’t afford to, and I didn’t really want to. I loved coming here; I always had. So I kept the lot, eventually bought a used camper trailer, moved it here, and enjoyed more beach time with Dad and Kay.
Many times Kay and I talked about rebuilding, and though we didn’t we knew that one day that would happen. Dad knew too.
So last year, we did. And we spent our first Christmas without Dad here, beginning a new family tradition.
This place is new, but it’s filled with old memories — from summers with my grandmother who used to rent down here, from the times spent here until Ike wiped it out. The furniture is a mixture of old, new, and repurposed from flea markets and estate sales and antique stores. When Kay asks about moving something here that one of us already owns, I ask here whether she can stand to watch it wash away or disappear (after all, another hurricane is always a possibility). Usually, she decides not to move it here if it’s really something sentimental.
Now, though– we continue to put our touches on this place. Today, for example, we got a wrench — didn’t have one, but we didn’t need one either. We’ve got a drill, but I know we need a set of tools here. That’s on the list of “things to get,” which grows.
But we fill the place with new memories too. Every time we visit, together or alone. With friends. With relatives.
Whether the houses around us are large or small, ornate or plain, this area has rebuilt. It’s living again. It’s got its groove back.
Tomorrow I’ll head back to Lake Charles.
It’s only a two-hour drive, and the road runs both ways. There’s always more time, more time for visits with family and friends.
Barbara and I are already planning on a visit when she and Herb will come down to meet me here — with their daughter, her husband, and their two babies. We’ll hope to get her brother Jim here too since he lives on the island.
Time to savor those family ties, those friendships.