What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Recently my whole family — all 15 of us — got together for a beach week on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Pensacola Beach is one of my favorite places: The sand is beautiful and it’s the perfect vacation mix of fun-things-to-do versus nothing-to-d0-but-sit-on-the-sand-in-peace-and-quiet. My daughters and I spent many summer weeks here when they were younger, and in recent years we’ve dragged coerced brought Husband JP and Older Daughter’s Husband along, too. We loved introducing “our” spot to other folks in our family — Pensacola‘s blend of history, architecture, shopping, food, music and sports (baseball, surfing, paddleboarding, disc golf)  as well as all things Blue Angels meant everybody in our group found something intriguing to explore. Of course, our three younger members — age 4, 2 and 8 months — were content to stay at Family HQ and  chase crabs, dig sand and throw shells back in the surf (okay, our 8-month-old grandson wasn’t too impressed with the surf and really only wanted to eat the sand, but still). We did all the Pensacola things — ate at Peg Leg Pete’s Oyster Bar (where our 4-year-old grandson was slightly disappointed to find out that the pirates there were good pirates), McGuire’s Irish Pub (home of the best fried potatoes anywhere. Anywhere.) and Native Cafe (which we feel paternal towards since we ate there when it first opened and have stuck with it through slow service, lackadaisical service and no service because the food is that good); visited the Naval Air Museum; watched the Blue Angels perform practically in our backyard; shopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood; wandered through Fort Pickens and browsed up and down the happening Palafox Street and Palafox Market. But, of course, as with any family vacation, the highlights involved people more than places: Taking my mom to the World War II exhibit at the Naval Air Museum to see the full-sized recreated Pacific-theater camp similar to one her Seabee father lived in during the war; making sand cities with our 4-year-old grandson;  teaching our 2-year-old nephew how to “dibble, dibble, shot,” although since his parents are skilled and accomplished soccer players, he’s much better than me; playing disc golf with-our nephew watching my 13-year-old nephew and his dad zip through a disc-golf course; learning how to-stand-up paddle board watching our two daughters conquer the surf on stand-up paddle boards; getting drenched in the rain at the outdoors Palafox Market with Younger Daughter yet still eating soggy almond croissants baked by an actual French person; and riding around in a golf cart with my husband and the king of Santa Rosa Island — Santa Rosa Island Authority executive director Buck Lee. Good times, good times.


  Memorial Day is pretty much like any other day for my husband, a newspaper sports editor. He does go in to the office a bit later than normal, but there’s no time for cookouts or picnics or parties. So I wondered what he had in mind when he asked if I’d like to help him do something before he left for work today. Turns out he had a different sort of Memorial Day celebration planned. We drove to the Corinth National Cemetery, just a mile or so from our house, where  Boy Scouts and other volunteers had decorated gravestones with American flags today. It’s a beautiful spot — quiet, peaceful and shady — especially with thousands of flags fluttering in the breeze. He and I drifted into different areas, and when I caught sight of him again, he was in a far corner of the cemetery. I noticed him bending over individual markers, coming back up with a flag in his hand, waving the flag around and then bending back down, over and over again: He was picking up flags that had fallen over on the ground, waving them around to air out the wrinkles and then placing them back upright next to the gravestones. “It just seems like the right thing to do,” he said, as I joined him. We didn’t cover the entire cemetery, but we straightened quite a few flags. And we talked. About the origins of this cemetery — the U.S. government established it in 1866 for Union casualties of nearby battles, so there are only three Confederate soldiers buried here. About the older couple we watched place an arrangement at the marker of a young man killed in the Persian Gulf war — was he their son? About the markers listing service in multiple wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam were a common combination. About the single dried rose left atop one gravestone. And about the thousands of unidentified soldiers buried here, lost to their families. But, today — remembered.