I don’t recall exactly when the beach house was rented and for how long before my arrival. It was just before my parents moved to the North Carolina city of Wilmington and its beach town, Wrightsville Beach, was a well-known vacation spot — in the summer.
This house was rented in the winter. And it was the winter of I think 1990, the winter when it happened to snow in Wrightsville Beach for the first time anyone could remember. It was to be the location of our family Christmas, and many of us had to make long treks to get there. Renting a beach house for Christmas was not without precedent for us. We had done so in the past in Capitola.
But this house was different. Directly on the beach, or as near as you could get to it. On stilts because of the potential of hurricanes and high tide and roomy enough for extended family. Nice.
And then the trouble started. The snow at first was a novelty. We sat by the fire after building snowmen on the beach. The arcade at the pier seemingly belonged to us. Its pinball, corn dogs and air hockey were simply there for the taking.
But then there was the matter of picking up my sister’s new boyfriend from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. One-hundred-and-fifty miles away. In a snow storm. So off my dad went, with my sister, my grandfather and my father’s friend Bud, who brought a 12-pack of Natural Light for the trip. I was to remain with my mother, which was fine by me. They were back the next day with a tale to tell. The car, I believe a Mercury Cougar, had gotten stuck several times in the snow and blankets were used for traction until those blankets were lost or otherwise discarded. The average speed on Interstate 40 was about 10 mph. And Bud finished his 12-pack without once asking to use a restroom. I’m still not sure why he went along. Maybe it was his car. The car, which had to be left in the middle of the street, was about a block away from our temporary home.
My mom was worried all night but didn’t let on. That’s her way.
But they were back safe and sound and my sister’s boyfriend, now husband of about 20 years, didn’t have his luggage for the week-long stay. And he never got it. And we were stuck there, so it was borrowed underwear and a toothbrush for him. Welcome to the family.
Then the pipes started freezing. My dad, whose idea of roughing it was a Holiday Inn without room service, decided he would be the one to fix them. Down to the ground level he went to see what could be done. There, he found a burst pipe pouring water everywhere. With duct tape and rags, he attempted to make the fix. He was sopping wet, frozen but determined. The pipe was a gray abscess but minimized the leak.
Until others started breaking from the top of the stilts so we had a quickly frozen waterfall for two levels. The city made good on its threat to turn off the water. So there we were. No water. A quickly depleting store of canned goods. And each other.
The snow stopped, then melted, Bud got his car back and life eventually returned to Wrightsville Beach.
It was a great Christmas.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.