We’ve plowed through dinner, an unexpectedly grand feast considering our
artillery consists of single burner Coleman gas stoves, picnic benches, and soggy ingredients from coolers filled with perpetually melting ice. The campground is starting to get a bit darker and sweaters and long pants are starting to appear from tents. Like the gunshot signaling the beginning of a race, these things signal that it’s time to head over to Head of the Meadow beach for the bonfire.
There is nothing I look forward to more throughout the whole year, besides Christmas… maybe, than our week at the Cape. These moments are so pure, being entirely removed from the hassles and stresses everyday life presents, and so enjoyable, being able to share them with such close friends. I always feel like I’m driving home raspberry and orange glow on the beach. The boys unload the logs of wood, as one fumbles with crumpled newspaper, matches, and kindle. There’s always the one time when the one guy douses the entire thing with lighter fluid, just to see it set ablaze. While us young folk pick the perfect spot on the beach and arrange our set up, our parents trickle down the dunes with their chairs and a cooler or two. In this section in time, this is all we need to be content; a place to sit, a jacket to keep us warm, and a little nourishment, in both food and liquid form. I settle in with my girls and we sit against the huge piece of driftwood that has remained in the same place all these years. Even though we eventually leave the beach behind for a year that weathered and faded tree trunk is always here waiting for us next summer.While I assume people usually have corn, potatoes, maybe fish, and s’mores, being Polish, we always bring kielbasa. We make s’mores too, of course, but first we make kielbasa. Sections lay hovering over the fire until they get crispy and the fat starts to drip and sizzles as it hits the embers. The younger kids move in a whirlwind, running from the fire to check on their kielbasa, to the lapping water to inspect glossy stones, or the white lifeguard chair to climb its ladder and jump from the top. I remember being their age, when the chair seemed at least ten feet higher.
Polish conversation fills the air, intermingling with the calls of seagulls and echoing campfire songs from the other groups around. Inspired by the music, we take charge of the beach belting out “Hej Sokoły.”
Omijajcie góry, lasy, pola, doły.
Dzwoń, dzwoń, dzwoń dzwoneczku,
Mój stepowy skowroneczku
Which brings a little culture to the sandy beach. As the supplies of wine and beer dwindle, our laughter intensifies, and it is soon time for the adults and little ones to head back to the tents. As space frees up, we all move closer around the fire. Sitting as close to the flames as we can to keep warm, but far enough away so we don’t cook ourselves. By this time, we’re all dispersed. Some sitting on chairs, others against the log, and a few laying on a mat and sharing a blanket. The boys let loose and make racist and sexist jokes.
“So the mom says ‘That’s right sweetheart, goals and dreams are Satan’s way of distracting you from making dinner.’”
I try not to laugh but sometimes it’s too hard to hold back. That’s what I like about them so much, their strong humor, which is not always offensive, mind you, it just doesn’t exist when I hang out with my girl friends. It makes me feel a little honored that they let us in, even if just for a bit. In the background someone plays DJ, inspiring the occasional pause in communication when everyone gets lost in the rhythm, nodding our head or tapping our feet to the beats bumping from the speakers. I withdraw myself from the jokes, conversation, and music to reflect. I lay back for a minute, to listen to the crackle of the fire and the waves crashing on the sand. Take in a breath and inhale the salt air, breathe out the pollution of the city and the drama carried from life at home. At this moment, time stops. My sole focus becomes these breaths, in and out, cleansing and peaceful. Until my friends fall down next to me, and I’m suddenly brought back, but I’m happy to be brought back, to be with my people.We look up at the stars together and search the dark sky for one constellation we can recognize, the big dipper, and the occasional shooting star. The stars are brighter on the beach then they are at home, in the city or the suburbs. We attribute it to “light pollution”, but I think is has more to do with the fact that no one cares to pay attention to the stars at home.
No one will argue that the adoption of responsibilities and the constant pursuit of success are detrimental to our well being. It’s incredibly important to study, to work, to research, to constantly put in the effort in order to advance our current status, but I believe it is just as essential to incorporate time for events like these into our lives. They’re the prescription to contentment, because no one can make you laugh harder than a friend, nothing can keep you warmer than a bonfire on the beach, nothing can be more delicious than a freshly roasted s’more, and nothing feels better than a song belted out at the top of your lungs.