Family Ritual on the Jersey Shore


The family Circle on the Beach

The family Circle on the Beach

My husband’s family, from his dad who is the eldest of nine siblings, has a tradition. They have been vacationing together over the summer on Midway Beach for over a decade.


Every one of the nine siblings, most live near by, except one who lives close to the west coast, shows up with all or part of his or her family. Most stay the whole week and some stay for a few days. Most rent vacation houses a few minutes to if not right on the beach. Some gets the same house every year some don’t.


It is a highly anticipated annual event. The efforts starts as early as in Feb. when the always highly sought after houses have to be confirmed and paid. The real work starts though when it is time for the beach. Besides clothing, toiletries, cameras and camcorders, etc., the usual stuff to pack for a trip, beach chairs, umbrellas, tents, toys, sun lotions, bug sprays, linens, pillows, blankets, kitchen ware, table ware, food, snacks, beverage, beers and booze, tissues, napkins and paper towels, etc., are packed and loaded up, cramming the cars, station wagons, vans and SUVS till there is not an inch’s space left.


The rewards for them are forming a big circle on the beach with tents, umbrellas and chairs in various colors and shapes, bathing in the sun, sharing snacks and drinks, conversing, dipping in the water, getting ice cream, watching kids built sand castles or hunt for shells, soft crabs and jelly fishes or dare in the water, visiting local bars, crawling houses, playing an innocuous gambling game of Right Left Center, ordering breakfast, lunch and dinner and cooking just a time or two, an outing to the board walk on Wednesday when there will be fireworks and there are rides, games and food for every one and  crabbing on the last night, etc.


Since I joined the family circle, I’ve been to the shore vacation a few times. First time was the year before JJ and I were married. I could be there only for a few days at the end of their vacation, so JJ, my then boy friend, booked me a ticket before he left. I flew in and found only a small group still there, JJ, his mom Pam, my future mother in law, aunt K from his dad and several relatives from his mom’s side. Thinking back now, it was much better to start with that small group. Pam is also from a big family, the eldest of eight siblings, and R, J’s rich uncle, Pam’s brother, happened to be vacationing with his wife D, whom he divorced later, in his beach house 15 minutes away in Lavallette, one of his several houses but one he sold later. Uncle M, youngest of the eight, and grandma L, mother of Pam, R and M, were staying with R and D that week. I was invited by D to their house one evening and I dined with R, D, M and grandma L along with JJ and Pam. We had a nice dinner and interesting conversation which at one point prompted Pam to throw a piece of cucumber on R in a pointed but tender way to protest a point he was making about stay at home moms. After dinner, we walked to an ice cream shop for desert. Uncle M, who is considerate and gentle, who I like a lot, told me, at some point during my sojourn, that I was brave. Maybe I was. I had no fear or any concern. I just went, every one I met was nice to me and I had a short but sweet vacation.


I learned all about the ritual the second time I was there in 2005. J and I were married earlier that year. This time, I went through the whole drill. I packed everything in that long list and we drove thirteen hours to get there. We shared with his aunt K a small house that does not have air conditioning and we had to keep the fan churning continuously at night trying to sleep and I played Right Left Center for the first time on the last night of the vacation when my husband drank too much Apple Martiini accepting every offer made him and puked. Nonetheless, it was a good family vacation. We saw JJ’s baby nephew for the first time, got to know more about the uncles, aunties and the cousins, putting the names and faces together, took a day trip to New York City by train and that was a lot of fun, had some languorous days on the beach, tasted and loved Abbey’s sandwich.  Still, I could do without the last part of the rite: cleaning the house before leaving. A spoiler I found close to the end of the vacation. Nevertheless, I unwillingly but responsibly did my duty.


We joined the family on the shore again at end of July this summer after a long two year intermission. This time, the family circle has grown, J has a new baby niece A, and his sister had her own house. The house we had stayed in was taken by one of JJ’s uncles. We didn’t get a house this time. Our plans changed many times and by the time I figured out we could go it was too late to find a house within the blocks. My mother in law Pam graciously took us in to her air conditioned house. Mom, that is how I address Pam now, is kind, patient and witty. You can’t help but like her and I admire her for her way. She is also an excellent cook. I’ve learnt quite a few things from her and probably more if we live closer to each other. She makes the best seven layers dip. Thursday is the day when she makes the dip and serves it on the beach. She would set up a foldable table in the middle of the family circle, covers it with a table cloth and lays out her sever layers dip and chips that always win her the most enthusiastic praises. I took the day trip to New York again. Bao, my twelve year old son, got along well with the other kids and you could just tell he was having lots of fun and swarthily tan. Baby A is adorable and it was mirthful to watch her fitting into the beach scene quietly in her tent as if she is born for the beach. It was a good vacation despite the sun burn I had needlessly inflicted upon myself. And this time, I had mom booked a cleaning service. Yay!


This sort of beach vacation had not been my favorite thing. I am the type A traveler. My goal is to see as many new places as possible. I want to see and do to the maximum of my ability wherever I go, seeking the grand and the inspiring. Yet, I’ve learnt to like this repeated, lackadaisical family vacation and the Jersey shore. Despite the fact that I am willing to stay out on the beach not all day long but only a few hours I am intrigued by their love for the beach, which they seem indoctrinated. I admire their desire to vacation together as a family even though they do live close by and see each other many times through out the year.


I sometimes wonder if our generation will keep the tradition going. As for me, it is a vacation I will go back to, not just for my husband, also for myself. In my Chinese culture, one finds a way to love one’s family regardless of one’s liking them or not. In my case, I am lucky. It is easy to love JJ’s immediate family and I am learning to love the rest. Hooray to family!

3 Responses

  1. It was “Apple Tini’s” that made me puke, not lemon 🙂

  2. This was a great time for family to get together. COOL!!

  3. So interesting to read about out annual beach family vacation from a “newcomer’s” point of view. It can be both a dear and annoying set of circumstances to me, but you are right – it is an indoctrinated love of the shore that keeps us coming. Most years I think maybe we won’t bother to go this year, but then I can’t resist. It is an important family thing, and it was especially wonderful to have my own immediate family all there this time. Often I am the only one there, when Dad leaves after a day or two to go back to work. It was interesting to see Dave’s reaction, as this was his first time, and he is more of a Type A traveler like you, or at least he likes to stay very active athletically. I think he actually enjoyed doing nothing at times. I was also happy to see Ben enjoying himself among his new cousins and at ease in the water & waves – a big difference from his first time when everyone & everything was so new and strange.

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