Port Aransas: Heaven and Hell

Remember the old joke about heaven and hell? It goes something like this. In Heaven, the British welcome you and provide the hospitality, the Germans provide the transportation, the Italians feed you, the French romance you, and the Swiss make the schedule and keep things running on time. In Hell, the Germans provide the hospitality, the British feed you, the French provide the transportation, the Swiss romance you, and the Italians run the schedule.

I must confess that I often have a similar love/hate relationship to the beach, especially at Port Aransas. I can give you one word, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sand.

I mean, you’ve got some of the best sand in all of Texas. You have the SandFest and the PortA sandcastle guy. Burying little bodies and sometimes big bodies. Tiny footprints next to big ones, with an invisible held hand in between.

But as the years go by, I become less tolerant of sand in places that it doesn’t belong. In my car. In my house. In my shorts, and in my shorts, if you know what I mean. In my daughter’s hair, and two minutes before I told her we were getting in the car. In metal things that work, which soon after become metal things that work poorly and then not at all. I’m elevating my blood pressure as I type.

In the balance, since we got the beach house and out of our tents, sand is a whole lot more heaven and less hell. But I love it, and I hate it. You get the idea. Shall we move on?

Salt water.

Is there any greater point in the drive to the beach than when you get that first whiff of salty air? It means vacation, and as a land-locked Texan who was previously a land-locked Tennesseean, the mere proximity takes me to another state of mind. The first taste of salt water as I’m on a wave board or just swimming in the gulf is bliss. But good things are sometimes best in small doses.

Like when Spinner, our Aussie who could not swim with her mouth closed, swam for an hour straight, and then…

expelled that salt water in forms too vile to describe in detail for the next two hours straight. Speaking of metal things that used to be nice, our car was never the same. Don’t you feel like that dog sometimes? I mean, wave boarding is nice, but there’s nothing nice about a nasal… um… cleanse. To move my mouth to a happier place, I will slip back across that razor-thin line to heaven. On to food.

Fish.

Red fish, crabs, flounder, shrimp. When the oil spilled in the Gulf, my first brief panic was that I was going to lose our supply of the freshest fish in Central Texas. And that fish is so easy to catch in Port Aransas.

My fondest childhood fishing memory is of a trip when everyone in a family of five caught our limit, and brought our catch home. We didn’t even have enough room in our huge freezer to keep it all. We kept it at a neighbor’s house. And we had fresh fish every night for a week.

And then we had not so fresh fish every night for another period of time that I’ve blocked out. By now, if you’ve done your share of Port Aransas fishing trips, you know exactly what I mean. A successful trip is one where you’ve caught what you want to eat, and you were wise enough to stop, or throw the rest back. There’s nothing quite as miserable as a trip with high seas where you catch nothing. (That doesn’t happen too much around here.) Except maybe a trip when you catch too much.

To give you a happy ending to the bountiful catch, someone kicked the plug out of the freezer that had all of our neighborhood fish. We took that skunky fish and buried it in my mother’s tomato bed, and we buried them deep. We had the best tomatoes ever that year. I’m going to take this blog to a risky place, but trust me.

Bikini Clad Teenagers.

Well, so much for trust. But I’m going somewhere slightly different than you think. My daughters mean more to me than anything else in the world. My wife feels the same way. It’s awesome to see them grow. But it’s also terrifying in ways that only parents of beautiful teenage girls can believe. The beach has a way of bringing out the best of people watching. When I’m watching the people that I love play, the experience grows tenfold.

Now, you can see exactly where I’m going here. Just the words “teenage girls” can tell you about all about heaven and hell that you’ll ever need to know. The car trips and the stops to eat and the stops to pee and the stops to shop and the stops to pee again. The laughter and the late-night laughter (and the later night laughter).

Of course, these are the reasons we go to a beach house. When you can pack six girls into a room and let moms and dads get a good night sleep in the rooms below, you have the recipe for heavenly memories.

And just a tiny little slice of hell.

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