What Revisiting a Childhood Vacation Spot as an Adult Taught Me About Comfort and Change

On the second evening, my sister and I head to a roadside farmer’s market, where we pack a dozen cobs of summer sweet corn. Shiny Jersey tomatoes are $3 each this year, so we’re selecting a few to enjoy as delicacies. At Fishing from Beach Haven, a man in his sixties with a salt-and-pepper beard, notes our takeout selection: steamed clams and jumbo prawns Old Bay style. Later, I will record our order in the notebook.

With the waves murmuring in the distance, we sit on the porch later that night, munching on succulent clam meat and sipping the buttery juices from the shells, the table strewn with lime wedges and half-drained margaritas. Inside, the children watch shows. Outside, the sky bloomed into a spectrum ranging from brilliant orange to ashy purple. That we are all here is an accomplishment. But just as the sky changes and the ice melts, I recognize that this moment is fleeting.

The days pass slowly on LBI, from the house to the beach to the outdoor shower, and yet they seem to pass. As we cross the island, local businesses swirl with souvenirs. Younger days: Nardi Tavern, where we held up fake IDs and took the designated chauffeured shuttle back home. Unique days: the Silver Sun mall, where I once met a Turk who was working at the sunglasses stand. Simpler times: When a trip to Sleazy Skipper the ice cream stand was sufficient for one evening.

Eventually, I reach the inevitable point known to all introverts on a large family vacation – I need some time to myself. And so, early one morning, I walked to Schooner’s Wharf, a cinder-shingle shopping complex selling the same pastel-colored “Life is Good” doodles and T-shirts as always. To LBI Book Exchangean independent bookstore with everything from bestsellers to beach reads, I rummage through the shelves and pick out a second-hand Sally Rooney title.

On the way back, I start thinking about our traditions. They tell us who we are: people who keep beach diaries and prefer to dine at home. They also allow us to feel connected with the person who enjoyed LBI more than anyone, but can’t: our father. It reminds me that even though I see myself as an independent vessel in this world, I exist in relation to my family, and that the specific dynamic between the four of us is tragically impermanent. For these reasons, no distant adventure will ever be comparable to our missions at LBI.

Jersey Shore summer traditions include a visit to Fantasy Island and a rich, meaty clam chowder.

Getty; Caitlin Raux Gunther

The last night of the trip, we descend on Fantasy Island Amusement Park, another relic that seems to have dodged the clock, and watch our kids ride the rickety choo-choo train and the terrifying Sea Dragon ride and scream through the inky sky. We end the night at the Country Kettle soup window, hunched over steaming cups of New England clam chowder, the broth rich and filled with chunks of meat. I sprinkle on crispy oyster crackers while Mimi gulps down her chowder and says, “Ahh.”

In the morning, as we clean the house, we are already planning for next summer: we will start saving early so that we can pool our resources and rent one of these modern monstrosities on the beach. Maybe one day we’ll buy one like dad always wanted. Naturally, we will baptize it with a name. I grab the notebook.

“Beach please?” I show my sister.

She stops, her eyes turned upwards. “Sailor’s Journey!”

“That’s it,” I say, and write the name.

We take out the trash cans, lock the door and pile into our respective cars to try to reach the bridge before the traffic.

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