I’m stretched out on a beach towel, my pale skin slathered in SPF, drinking a Bud Light fast enough so it won’t get warm. Considering the sweltering temperature, I gotta drink pretty fast. My best friend Caroline is on the towel beside me. Between us is a Styrofoam cooler packed with beer, water, and empty Pop-Tart wrappers (that was breakfast). As is our custom, we started the day by hauling the cooler (packed exactly the same way every morning) across scorching sand to the water’s edge.
“Ready for another one?” she asks.
I shake my can. Nearly empty. “Sure, beer me,” I tell her.
“So anyway, I’m learning I just have to say no to my mother. “
“Totally, but it’s so hard.”
She hands me the ice-cold can. I take the last warm swig of the other one and pass her the empty. Every year, we discuss the same topics—men, mothers, and career.
“So just listen to this. My mom is trying to get me to come home every single weekend in August to go to engagement parties and weddings for all her friends’ kids. I barely even know these people. Alexis Smith was like in third grade when we graduated from high school.”
“Isn’t she a little young to be getting married?”
“That’s another story …”
I pop open the cold beer. I look out at the waves rolling in and the tattooed teenagers frolicking near the water’s edge. My koozie says Are you as stupid as you look?
“So you are going home every weekend in August?”
How It Got Started.
It was nearly July 4 in 1997 and I had no plans for the long weekend. I was twenty-six and working in the tiny newsroom of a suburban Atlanta newspaper. I had recently broken up with a boyfriend and was feeling gloomy about spending the long weekend alone.
“I just want to go the beach,” I whined into the phone to Caroline.
“Me too,” she whined back. Caroline and I grew up together in Tennessee and both now lived in Atlanta. Like me, she worked way too many hours and hadn’t gotten around to making plans.
After a few minutes of whining, we decided we’d go the beach, just the two of us. The only problem: every hotel we called at every beach we’d ever visited was full. (This was pre-online booking.) A friend at the paper suggested Tybee Island, outside of Savannah, and we started calling hotels there.
Eventually we found a place with a vacancy. Yea!! It was time to pack: sunscreen, bathing suits, skirts, and sandals!
Fast forward a few days. We arrived at a pre-fabricated Rodeway Inn along the island’s busy strip. On the way, we passed dumpy restaurants with big signs advertising fried shrimp specials, as well as convenience stores with racks of neon muscle Ts out front. The motel pool—surrounded by a chain-link fence and an asphalt parking lot— was packed with drunk, sunburned rednecks, men in cutoff jeans, women in string bikinis that should have been retired several years (and many pounds) before.
Now it would have been easy to feel depressed by this scenario (I bet our ex-boyfriends and their new girlfriends are at fabulous resorts right now) but instead Caroline looked at me and said, “When in Rome …” and I said, “Totally.” Though we preferred higher-end beer at home, we bought Budweiser. We wore rubber flip flops for the short but brutally hot morning trek across the highway from the Rodeway to the beach. We sported bikinis sans the cute cover-ups, got drunk every afternoon and finished with evenings of fried-food platters. We naturally had a blast and vowed to come back the next summer.
How It Became a Ritual.
We went back every July, packing the cooler each morning with our disgusting Pop-Tarts and cheap beer. We bought koozies especially for the annual weekends. We found restaurants on Tybee we liked (not exactly the kind of fare we chose at home), and later, after we heard about fine-dining spots, we turned up our noses at fresh pecan-crusted trout. We’ll take a platter of fried oysters and French fries, extra mayonnaise in the coleslaw please. We never worried about how we looked. We didn’t pack makeup.
There are two reasons this ritual became important to us. First, we escaped our hectic lives. Second, we talked and talked and talked. It was like therapy (with a high alcohol content). Our lives changed a lot in the years we went to Tybee. I switched jobs a few times; Caroline got promoted a whole bunch of times; I got married and she fell in love. We both bought houses, discovered wrinkles around our eyes, and got (just slightly) better at telling our mothers no.
What Happened Next.
I got pregnant. There’s just no way to do this trip with a baby in the belly. So July 4, 2004, Caroline and I went away for a spa/shopping weekend. It was fun, but it wasn’t Tybee. The next summer, we talked about going back but I had just returned to work and had a lot of working-mom guilt. By 2006, I was pregnant again. This past summer, we didn’t even discuss it.
Caroline, who is one of my daughter’s favorite people on the planet, met my family for a hamburger dinner a few months ago. My toddler spilled water and screamed. My son cried for no reason. It was one of those stressful meals that makes parents lose their minds.
When the bill came, I told my husband I would pay it if he would take the kids home. “Caroline will give me a ride later,” I told him.
She and I hit the bar for a glass of wine. We started talking about our emotional issues and which ones we inherited from our mothers. “This is Tybee 2007 style,” I told her.
“Totally,” she said laughing.
What I’m Thinking Now.
Caroline is engaged, and she and her fiancé are likely to move to another country. My husband and I are considering baby number three. A lot is about to change, a lot already has changed, but I think there is time for one more trip to Tybee. I better call now. I bet the Rodeway is booking up.