Memory and Travel

By now, you might have noticed something: I love Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  I am infatuated.  I am smitten.  I have been for as long as I remember.  With a few exceptions, I’ve gone to Rehoboth every summer since I was born.  (And clearly, recently I’ve been going there in colder months, too.  I just can’t.get.enough.)

While I work on “getting my sea legs” in this whole travel writing schtick, here’s something I started a little over 2 years ago, for school.  The task was to describe a non-place.  My version of finding a non-place was to venture into memory, rather than physicality.

Here’s how I’ll frame this for travel: How does memory affect how you wander?  Seriously, I’d love to know – are there places you’ve been back to, or go back to regularly?  How does your memory and affection for a place impact how you remember and describe that place, and how you interact with that place?  How do your memories of those people on that particular trip affect your memory of the place?

I have a lot of memories of Rehoboth not tied to the particular other actors in this piece, too, but I am a nostalgic traveler.  When I return somewhere, I tend to gravitate back to the places I know and love – places where I had a meal or went wandering with someone…or on my own (I have plenty of international versions of that, too.  I’ll get to those.)  That does not mean I don’t go in search of the new, too – I’ve got plenty in the blog pipeline for that.  But my search for something new, within fond old memories (while creating fond new ones), often guides my feet.

Here’s how I remembered Rehoboth in September of 2014.

Do you remember when we came here when we were young?  I think the last time we were here, together, was fourteen years ago, maybe fifteen.  It was the summer I had my first “real” job, and the summer you first moved to Brooklyn.   But there were all the summers before that, too.  I could describe any of those summers, and it would just be a story about a family on holiday over the summer.  And that’s just such a cliché.

Every time I’ve come back, I’ve looked for the houses that we’ve stayed in before, and the McMansions that have since replaced them.  What else has changed?  The Avenue is still there, but that bookstore where we got my first Tintin has been gone for 20 years or more.  Do you remember the diner, where they had the best vanilla Cokes?  I can’t remember which side of the street it was on anymore.  They’ve rebuilt parts of the boardwalk, but Funland still reigns supreme at the south end.

The beach is still there; of course it is.  The sand still feels the same between my toes, though it must be different sand by now.  Do you remember teaching me how to ride the waves?  Or going back in the water for hours after the lifeguards had gone?  There were always so many of us on those trips.  Cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, everyone.  All of us, together, at the beach.

It’s still there, but we’re not.

What happens to a place when we stop going there?  What happens to all those memories, when we’re not there to remember them?  Is the place any less real?

I’ve been back without you, on other trips.  You went to the next town over once, with your wife and your friends.  But we hadn’t been in the same beach town, at the same time, until just last month.  What had changed in fifteen years?

Everything, and nothing.  We swam, we played in the sand, we played Monopoly.  We ate at different restaurants, but bought a dozen crabs from the same fish place.  There was a fifteen-year distance between us and the town.  What does that distance do to us, or to the town?

It’s still there, that little town.  The route we took on all those scavenger hunts is probably the same, but the woman who ran them isn’t.  Some of the houses still stand; others have been razed and rebuilt.  That place where I had that job isn’t there anymore.  Even the shore itself isn’t the same; how could it be?

Already my memory fails.  You did come back another summer in between – my 2nd summer at that job, that last summer before the world around us went pear-shaped.  How could I have forgotten?  Maybe it’s because I’d rather remember this last trip to the beach, or the ones when you taught me how to ride a boogie-board.  Maybe we’ll create new memories in that little town, if it’s still there, and still real, fifteen years from now.

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