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

On the second night, my sister and I head to a roadside farmer’s market, where we bag a dozen ears of sweet summer corn. The bright Jersey tomatoes are $3 each this year, so we select a few to savor like delicacies. At the Beach Haven Fishery, a 60-something man with a salt-and-pepper beard jots down our takeaway selection—steamed little neck clams and Jumbo Shrimp with Old Bay. Later, I’ll log our order in the notebook.

With waves murmuring in the distance, we sit on the porch later that night, forking succulent clam meat and sipping buttery juice from the shells, the table scattered with lime wedges and half-drained margaritas. Inside, the kids are watching shows. Outside, the sky has blossomed into a spectrum from glowing orange to ashy purple. That we’re all here feels like an accomplishment. But just as the sky shifts and the ice melts, I recognize that this moment is fleeting.

Days are a slow crawl on LBI, from house to beach to outdoor shower, and yet they seem to fly by. As we traverse the island, local businesses swirl with memories. Of younger days: Nardi’s Tavern, where we brandished fake IDs and rode the designated-driver shuttle bus home. Of single days: the Silver Sun Mall, where I once picked up a Turkish guy working the sunglasses stand. Of simpler times: when a trip to the Skipper Dipper ice-cream stand was enough for an evening.

Eventually, I reach the inevitable point known to all introverts on a large family vacation—I need a moment to myself. And so, early one morning, I trek over to Schooner’s Wharf, a shake-shingled shopping complex selling the same doodads and pastel-colored “Life is Good” T-shirts as always. At LBI Book Swap, an independent bookstore with everything from bestsellers to beach reads, I rifle through the shelves and settle on a used Sally Rooney title.

On the walk home I begin to think about our traditions. They tell us who we are: people who keep beach journals and prefer dinner at home. They also make us feel connected with the person who enjoyed LBI more than anyone, but can’t—our dad. I am reminded that as much as I see myself as an independent vessel in this world, I exist relative to my family, and that the specific dynamic between the four of us is tragically impermanent. For these reasons, no far-flung adventure will ever compare to our missions to LBI.

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

Getty; Caitlin Raux Gunther

On the last night of the trip, we descend on Fantasy Island Amusement Park, another relic that seems to have dodged the clock, and watch as our kids ride the rickety choo-choo train and the terrifying Sea Dragon ride and squeal into the inky sky . We end the night at the Country Kettle soup window, craning over steamy cups of New England clam chowder, the broth rich and filled with meaty morsels. I sprinkle in crunchy oyster crackers as Mimi slurps her chowder and says, “Ahh.”

In the morning, as we clean the house, we’re already planning next summer—we’ll start saving early so we can pool our resources and rent one of those modern monstrosities on the beach. Maybe one day we’ll buy one as dad had always wanted. Naturally, we’ll christen it with a name. I grab the notebook.

“Beach, Please?” I show my sister.

She pauses, eyes gazing upward. “Seaman’s Journey!”

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

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

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