Like Sands in an Hourglass

Time changes all, yet at the beach, some things seem to remain the same.

I met writer Matt Desiderio in the summer of 1985. He was an English and film major at the University of Delaware. I was basically a surf bum. We intersected at a small boat rental at Fenwick Island State Park, where we taught sailing and boardsailing to vacationers and summer locals.

Matt and I have been friends ever since, so I know well the philosophical bent of his mind. If you read his “In the Wind” in February or “Everything but the Squeal” in March, you get my meaning. We’re excited about the insights Matt has brought to DT these past couple months.

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I also know Matt’s experience of the beach well, because there are many parallels with mine. So I know that April is when he opens his family’s Bethany Beach cottage for the season, which is why I asked him to write about it. You can read his story, “Castles Made of Sand,” on page 80.

I believe Matt and I, our brothers and sisters, and all our peers are fortunate to have lived through not one but two magical times at the beach. Matt’s parents and my grandparents were of the World War II generation who found cheap land and a favorable economy, thus starting a small wave of development in little towns like Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick.

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Our parents, aunts and uncles came of age at the beach, married, started families. Some went off to fight another war. For awhile, we young ones lived the same kind of beach life our elders lived. Activities such as shopping and dining were nearly unheard of because, well, there were no fancy shops or fine restaurants. We received two television channels, and they were unreliable at best. So we made our fun outdoors, and when bad weather prevented outside recreation, we played cards and board games. We knew our neighbors.

For awhile, things changed little. We watched Condo Canyon rise in North Ocean City in the early 1970s, as well as the towers of Sea Colony in South Bethany, but those developments were nothing compared to the building boom of the Reagan years. By the time Matt and I met, the beaches had also come of age. There were more homes (they even had insulation and heat), shopping opportunities (including—gasp—malls), good restaurants and bona fide nightspots. All of this was, of course, heaven to 20-somethings. Outdoor life and partying? How cool is that?

The beach towns continue to evolve. Long ago we got public water and sewer. We got cable TV. The phone companies have even eliminated most of the dead areas for cell users.

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Yet it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the Fenwick of the 1940s and ’50s, my mother, aunts and uncles played with the kids from Roxana and Williamsville, but they still depended largely upon themselves for company. Since then, they’ve all returned to the beach. They live in nice homes with heat and insulation and cable TV and cell service, but they still make their fun together. And there are more 60-something and 70-something “kids” for them to socialize with.

Even as the annual rituals of opening and closing a summer house like Matt’s become more rare, the beach remains a center of family life and a sort of spiritual home. Yes, there is more traffic, more houses, more condos and cheap motels, more pollution in the bays—more of everything. Yes, we could lament that

Coastal Highway

looks like

Kirkwood Highway

from Nassau to Dewey. But there is always magic at the beach.

On rare occasions, Matt and I still surf together. We still bump into old friends from windsurfing days at the

Tower Road

sailing beach, though they’ve all converted to kiteboarding. We still enjoy a cup of coffee or cold beer together on the porch.

And we still see kids who think their time at the beach is the greatest of their lives. I don’t think that will ever change.

Also this month, staff writer Matt Amis narrates a tour of some of the state’s most architecturally significant buildings. His preparatory survey of architects and scholars revealed a five-page list of important places. This month, we focus on historical and agricultural sites. Start your tour on page 74.

Looking for a dream job? Check senior editor Maria Hess’ “Great Places to Work” on page 68. Maria sifted through reams of information to compile a list of employers that offer their staffs something beyond the standard compensation and benefits packages. Whether you’re interested in law, finance, food, retail, or information management and technology, there is a place for you.

There’s more, as always. Please enjoy.


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