As I mentioned last week, Beach Week starts Saturday, July 4, for our combined Howell/Melendy families. As of right now – the Good Lord willing and coronavirus numbers steady – we are going. It has been a gut-wrenching decision process for all, and we know it will be a very different week from what we normally do.
I was thinking about that as Amy Melendy – my co-beach matriarch and partner in crime – did the Sam’s Club pre-beach shopping. But what I was thinking about wasn’t the changes we would be making this year, but the things that don’t change, the constants in our beach world. They are what add a distinctive flavor to our annual trek.
Being a writer, I would love to begin a beautiful, passionate, leave-you-weeping ode to the ocean, the tides, the beach and the sun. Yes, those are ever-present at Holden Beach.
But they aren’t our constants. Our constants are cheese balls, giant dill pickles, card games and cake with ice cream. Strange, I guess, and I’m not sure I can even provide verifiable provenance for some of them.
The cheese balls, for example: I have no idea when it started. But one year – probably the first year we had a Sam’s Club in Knoxville – I brought a giant container of cheese balls to the beach. Now, if you are a mom, you know that cheese balls are about the nastiest
snack food known to man. They turn everything they touch bright orange, and they stain everything from lips and teeth to upholstery and blankets the same icky color. They have zero nutritional value.
Kids love them. They don’t get them at home for all the good reasons listed above. For our group, they became a beach delicacy.
Card games are our nighttime activity. We always play Hearts and other games are often added. It’s Hearts, however, that are the constant. I should say that it is also a constant that David Melendy Sr. always comes out with the most wins, but there is no way I’m admitting that. After all, there’s always this year…
Cake and ice cream is a little easier to trace to the beginning. Grandchildren Cohen and Julian both made their debut at the beach the same year – 2009. Cohen was 3 years old, and Julian was 3 months old. The next year, David Sr. bought cake and ice cream at Food Lion to celebrate their second year at the beach. We have been celebrating the grandchildren at the beach with cake and ice cream ever since.
The ice cream has a side tradition that is a definite favorite of the children. It was started by Neville several years ago when we were cleaning out the refrigerator/freezer and pantry with all the food items we had left. In the freezer were three or four cartons of ice cream – each with a serving or two still left inside.
Neville – without checking with parents – put the cartons on the table, handed each child a spoon and told them not to let the ice cream go to waste. Happy – and hyper – children haven’t forgotten that. It was very disappointing last year when we had not over-purchased in the ice cream department, and there was none left in the freezer on the last night.
The giant dill pickles were a bit of a surprise. Gardner, our youngest at age 3 this year, was asked what he was excited to do at the beach, and he said, “Eat the big pickles.” Well, he did love pickles even before his little teeth would bite them, and we did have a big jar of them at the beach last year.
Amy and I hefted a huge jar into the Sam’s cart with the cheese balls. We all want to embrace the consistency of our traditions this year. Giant dill pickles are an easy addition in an uneasy world.
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.