Growing up as a little girl in Massachusetts, I was brought up taking our traditional summer vacations to the seacoast town of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. This was something all of my family members did growing up, for at least the last three generations.
It was an easy and inexpensive vacation for our family, that the parents and children enjoyed alike. My great-uncle owned a few beach houses on “O Street”, at the south end of Ocean Blvd. (the area was set up with Ocean Blvd. following the coastline and the lettered streets would go in alphabetical order intersecting Ocean Blvd.). So it was even more fun when my cousins would rent one and we would rent the other on the same week. The more, the merrier!
While I was still small, I loved every single part of this vacation, maybe everything except when it rained, and even then, we had fun playing made up games that my uncle would create.
As I got older I started to have a love/hate relationship with good old Hampton Beach. I loved being with my family and spending time at the ocean, but there were little things I started to notice that I didn’t like very much.
It was kind of cheesy.
You know, the typical beach town with souvenir shops, run down restaurants and low-budget motels? It was like that. Each year I started seeing it from a different perspective. I would think,
“If I had never been here before and had no history with this place, I would view it as a dilapidated beach town that wasn’t worth the visit.”
It made me wonder why we liked going here. While my friends vacationed on Cape Cod, Myrtle Beach or Ft. Lauderdale, we would go to this run down, dump of a beach town. Maybe I was envious?
The beach house (houses) was old.
No offense to my great-uncle, this is how all beach houses were at Hampton. They were all very old with just the basics. All the furniture was from my grandmother’s time and there were no televisions, no stereos, and no air-conditioning. You had to bring all of your linens, blankets, towels sheets and pillows from home. It seemed almost like camping, but we had a bathroom and a shower. This was the closest to “roughing it” you could get. Why couldn’t we stay at a nice timeshare with all the modern essentials you would want? This is when I didn’t realize the cost of things.
Cat Calling was the norm.
This was something that was expected at Hampton Beach. I guess you may find this at any area where women are scantily dressed and people are feeling the buzz of a day in the sun, or for other reasons. As young as 12-year-old, while walking down the strip, I can remember getting hollered at and cat called. It was scary at first, then I even liked the attention in my younger teen years, to just literally blocking it out. If you complained about it, the usually response would be, “Hey, you’re at Hampton Beach, what do you expect? You should be flattered.” I’d often cringe when hearing my alpha male, second cousins, chiming in with their share, to girls walking by, often being egged on by their dad. It’s just how people were. You either got used to it, or didn’t go there.
Not just along the strip and all over the streets, but even on the beach had litter all over it. People would actually just throw cups, bottles, cans, bags, butts, you name it, right on the beach. I couldn’t believe how awful it got over the years. Did no one care about the ocean, the environment or just for the pure vanity it of it? It looked gross and you never knew if you would cut your foot on a piece of broken glass, which I have done a few times.
So when you wrap up all those examples in a nice bow, you probably are thinking of why I would love it then?
I spent many hours with my parents, my siblings, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, that if we didn’t have those beach weeks together, they would have never happened. The memories of us all being together:
- laughing, playing in the waves
- eating meals together
- watching the fire works while running around with sparklers
- filling our craving for Blinks Fry Doe (always with butter and powdered sugar)
- walking and talking about life along the beach, to the rocks (the jetty)
- playing charades during a rainy day
These are just some the examples of many fond memories I cherish with my family at Hampton Beach. I believe that having this quality time with family members that I normally would only see on holidays or special occasions contributed to the strong bonds we have with each other today.
The beach house.
Even though the beach house was old and had its creaks and the bed felt more like a board, it was filled with love. And if these walls could talk, it would speak of special family times, and stories that were repeated generation after generation. This house hosted childhood memories and watched as these children grew into young adults. This house didn’t need to beautiful or amazing, because what it held inside was beautiful and amazing. Maybe my friends with families who had more than us could vacation in Hawaii or Aruba, but I am certain they couldn’t have had the same experience as we did together in our little beach house.
I now try to think of “cat calling” as a right of passage for young boys.
When I visit Hampton Beach now it doesn’t happen as often, I’m old, lucky me! But when I hear it, I try to bring less judgement, especially when its young boys. I try to see it as just a past time and that these boys are expressing their adolescents in this way because they aren’t quite sure of what is happening in their bodies. I will never say or think “cat calling” is appropriate and I never want my son to do it, because I find it disrespectful and a form of sexual harassment, but sadly, I realize not all kids are raised thinking this is the case. When asking men about this topic, some even think it’s being polite and complimentary. This is something that is starting to be addressed more and more and hopefully future generations will understand that this is harassment, whether your intentions are good or not. I won’t hold my breath though. It also seemed harmless and very mild now to me after visiting India in April. (They take harassment towards women to a whole new level!)
The littering is still present, but has decreased dramatically. Something else that has been going on for the last few years is the build up of all new condominiums and storefronts. The town of Hampton has put vast amounts of money in updating and cleaning the area to make it a desirable family beach vacation spot. Seeing the improvements to just the public bath houses was very impressive. They are now so clean with outside showers to rinse off and even have lockers. If you saw the bathrooms when I was around 14, you would probably rather wet your pants then attempt to go inside. It wasn’t just gross, it was scary!
Is there really any reason to elaborate? The ocean is the ocean, whether you are in Thailand, Australia, Russia or New Hampshire. It’s presence is like an elephant in the room. After all, it’s why we are there. It’s power makes you feel meek and small, but gives you the sense of peace all at once. If you are one who is drawn to the ocean then you understand its magnetic pull. The sounds of the repetitiveness of its waves and the tides and its resilience, knowing the moon has its back. Being near the ocean can humble you and ground in a way that nothing else in this world can.
Being back in Hampton Beach this past weekend evoked feelings of nostalgia. I got to visit some of the old places that we would frequent as kids, like the Playland Arcade, and even played a few strings of skee-ball and had a round at a hunting game that has probably been there since the 60’s. We stopped in at Cinnamon Rainbows, Hampton’s first and only surf shop, started by Todd Walker in 1983 and since owned by Dave Cropper. (I may not be the best surfer, but I did get my SUP there and I am not too bad at it.) Then, of coarse, there was no way I would miss the chance to have Hampton Beach’s famous Blinks fried dough, and it was just as delicious as I remember.
I also got to see some of the towns progress, with the building of new condominium and new stores, that will bring new families in to make their own special memories here. I didn’t stay in my great uncles beach house; he sold it years ago and since past, however, I did stay at an updated condominium that used to be an old rundown hotel. It was very nice and I was so happy they gave it the attention it needed. Seeing all the changes makes me feel old in some ways, but I can only imagine what other changes will take place within the next 30 years. I am glad the place of my childhood memories is being taken care of for future generations.
I may have a love/ hate relationship with Hampton Beach New Hampshire, but this place will be forever engrained in my memories and a part of my life. No matter where I travel in this world, I know, whenever I go back to that beach on the seacoast in New Hampshire, my home, in that part of the worlds’ ocean, I remember family, and that to me, is priceless.