Callie wrote the check to pay for four rooms and tore it out of her checkbook before handing it to the woman behind the check-in counter. The woman looked at the check for a moment, but didn't say any words of thank you. She just pulled her receipt book forward and wrote the receipt, which she handed over without comment. Callie remembered the sour-faced woman from more than forty years of visits, particularly when Callie and the woman had been much younger. The woman had been a sour-faced teenager, too.
"Thank you Hilda," Callie told the woman as she and both of her daughters each picked up their own room keys, a stack of linens, and collected those for the girls' brother, too. Drew, his wife, and their children, would arrive later, after Becky got off work and they made the six-hour drive. Donna and Trina's husbands would be along about that same time, bringing their children.
Callie, Donna, and Trina had taken a "girl's day" off to spend it together, something they didn't get to do often enough, now that the two younger women had families of their own. They had spent the day shopping at a nearby outlet mall and Callie's big SUV was loaded with shopping bags to prove it. They had also stopped for a few groceries before checking in to their rooms.
It was a year that ended in a five or a zero, which meant Callie and some of her relatives had reservations for all ten rooms of the tourist court for the reunion. It was sort of a first-come first-served situation, although there never was an argument. Some of the other families preferred one of the more modern courts or motels along the ocean front street for their two or three nights, although a few families stayed as long as two weeks.
Someone in the family had decided, many years ago, that the small seaside town offered just the right combination of amenities and relaxed atmosphere for a few days of family fun. Older tourist courts, a few small motels and one hotel, which was a little more modern, lined the main street. Less than a block from the street was the gulf side beach. A few of the men might spend part of an early morning fishing and some might find their way to the small marina and take advantage of a chartered fishing trip. Almost everyone would take at least one walk along the water's edge to wade in the salt water. Very early morning walks were popular for the shell collectors.
Part of their room rent also paid for the family's use of the big pavilion, where five or six generations would gather the day after tomorrow for visiting, for food and fun, plus family photo sharing and picture taking. In between the reunions, she might see some of these relatives for a wedding or a funeral, but these few days gave everyone an opportunity for longer visits and to learn what was new with each growing family. Just as Callie and her cousins had done, Callie's grandchildren would make good use of the swings and the slide in the small city park adjacent to the pavilion. If the next couple of days were clear and sunny, some relatives might enjoy part of a day on the beach, some even playing in the surf, although it was before Memorial Day and a little early in the season. The water wasn't quite warm enough for the less adventurous swimmers.
As Callie followed her daughters down the sidewalk to their rooms, she passed the open area, which had previously been one of the combination bedroom and kitchen units but was now just the foundation and a roof. Rather than repair the room, which burnt in a small fire, the owner had gutted it, leaving an open area with a good roof, rather like a large breezeway. It now held a few lawn chairs and a couple of picnic tables. It was a cool place where you could escape the mid-day sun. The constant onshore breeze kept the room pretty cool in the summer. It was particularly useful for brushing off the sand after spending some time on the beach.
A man in his early fifties was sitting at one of the picnic tables, watching a small six-year-old girl. She was collecting her toys, filling the bed of an old red wagon. Callie knew the age of the little girl. She had been almost a year old at the time of the last family reunion.
Callie stopped in the wide opening for a moment to speak to the man. "Hello, Duane. That sure is a pretty little girl."
The man looked up, his smile slow in coming. "Why, hello there, Callie. Long time, no see. It must be time for another family reunion."
"Yes, the rest of the family will start trickling in during the next few hours. She really is a beautiful girl.
"She's my niece, but I take care of her like she's mine. Did you bring another man with you this time?"
"Ah ... no, not this time." Callie didn't really mind answering the question — it just sounded like she always had a different man in tow.
"Can I take you to supper? There's a band at The Wharf tonight."
"Oh, I don't know." She looked at her daughters each unlocking her own room halfway down the sidewalk. She wondered what they would think, and then she really didn't care. "Okay, yeah, sure. I'd like that. I need to make my bed and unpack first."
"Okay, I'll come by about dark." Duane turned to the little girl, pointing to a small pile of stuffed animals. "Sally, go get your toys over there, too."
She need not have asked the question, but Callie was curious, too, particularly about how he would answer. "If you go out to supper, what do you do about Sally?"
"Oh, Hilda puts her to bed at night." Duane watched the little girl scamper around the area, collecting the remainder of her toys. "She goes to school all day. The only time we get to spend time together is the few days I can take off between the time she gets out of school and supper."
"Alright, I'll see you about dark." Callie waved and walked to the end of the sidewalk, past the double car parking space between her room and the one before it, and opened the last room, nearest the street. She left the door open to air out the room and dumped her pile of linens on the only bed in the room. Then she went outside to unlock the room where her son and his family would stay, leaving the key inside their room.
When she opened the back door of her vehicle to get her suitcase and groceries, Callie smiled to herself. It hadn't even occurred to her to park anywhere else. This was the room she always had, at least for the last few visits. After putting her bag inside the room, she went back to open the rear of her car to look through the bags for the new mattress pad she had purchased that day. She would rather sleep with something between the sheets and the tourist court's mattress, even if she hadn't had a chance to wash the newness out of the bed covering. It didn't take much imagination to know how the beds were used when the beach was filled with teenagers on spring break or when it wasn't tourist season.
She lowered the door, but didn't latch it. The girls would be looking for their own luggage, groceries — and new mattress pads, too. That was probably why some of the families preferred the newer accommodations.
After putting away her food and making the bed, she unpacked her suitcase. Callie thought about the years she had been coming to this particular town, and the same tourist court. She had a few memories of her second time here and being shy around so many relatives she didn't know very well. Her first reunion would have been when she was just barely a year old with parents, a brother, and two sisters. At eleven, she enjoyed getting to play with some of her cousins. That was her first memory of the woman who gave her the room key.
The third reunion brought her best memories of Duane. At sixteen, she fell in love with Duane, barely a year older than she was. He was also the son of the man who owned the tourist courts. For almost a week, they were almost inseparable, although they were rarely able to escape Duane's younger sister, Hilda. However, at the end of that vacation, they said good-bye to each other. To escape his little sister, they had to sneak behind one of the buildings for a quick kiss.
At twenty-one she brought her new husband to his first reunion, but they were newly separated for what would have been his second reunion. Her second husband and his three children came with her the next time. However, she was a new widow with three step-children the time after that. She was barely ten years older than her eldest step-daughter. Then, the time after that when she brought her third husband, no one understood how she could marry a man so much older than she was. Being a widow for the second time for the following reunion didn't bother her, but a few cousins seemed pretty nosey when asking their questions.
Now, here she was for the first time, attending the second reunion in a row as a single woman. It just seemed strange. For a few moments she wondered how many of her older aunts, uncles, and cousins would have discussed the possibility that she would have a fourth man with her this time. She only gave a moment to the thoughts. At least she married the men she lived with, a claim some of her cousins and one niece could not make. Besides, she was finally old enough that things like that no longer bothered her.
After setting her room to rights, Callie walked down the sidewalk to tell the girls they were on their own for supper. Their families would be arriving soon anyway. She listened to their teasing about going on a date, something she rarely did, and left them to one of their infrequent chances to talk to each other without husbands interrupting and children running around needing attention.
.... There is more of this story ...