August 11, 2015
Island Living: The lessons learned with age


Island living is a very different experience depending on your age. Yes, this seems completely obvious, but it’s a bit of a sudden realization for me.

When you’re 20-something, 30-something, or 60ish-something, the island has its own unique appeal and charms and its own list of things you enjoyed at one point, but never want to do again.

Why the sudden insight? (Especially when I’m definitely not known for coming up with anything insightful? Ever.) Hard to say.

Maybe it’s because my 68-year-old dad has to drag me to Karaoke Night when I’d rather stay home and watch a "Wicked Tuna" marathon.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting closer to the 40th birthday mark and feel like I should be scared, but for completely unexplained reasons, I’m not. At all -- which is weird.

Maybe it’s because I just came back from a weekend at Avon and noticed that the children of my friends were working at and/or partying at the same establishments I was in -- which is even weirder.

Or maybe it’s because I spent 15 or so years as a fun-loving and partying degenerate on Hatteras Island and have since realized that 1 a.m. is actually really, really late. In any case, I think it’s important to recognize that all those ways that you adore Hatteras Island change, and most of these changes are influenced by age.

Now there are some things that always remain the same. In fact, I can envision myself as an old woman initiating an on-the-beach slap fight over a freshly washed up Scotch Bonnet with a younger broad. (And I can envision myself winning, too.)

But there are some universal things that are simply enjoyed in new and weird ways as you get older. Whether you’re 20, 35 or 60, you expect a certain type of entertainment from your beautiful beach environment, and this definition changes throughout the ages.

Now, you might wonder if I am the right person to make judgments on age-appropriate behavior.

And the answer is, "Oh, Lordy, no."

I am effectively a mid-30s beach lover who still has the emotional triggers and mental capacity of a 10-year-old. Case in point, I still scare the bejeezus out of my husband by randomly stepping outside, and then suddenly shouting “Holy SH*T! LIGHTNING BUGS! There’s lightning bugs out tonight, sweetie! Did you hear me?? FREAKING LIGHTNING BUGS!!!!!”

And, when I was informed about that random wave of shark attacks on North Carolina's coast, my first internal response was, “Well I should be concerned, maybe… but I really, really, really wanna go in the ocean… So I bet if I have a couple beers beforehand, I’ll smell and taste bad to a shark, and, ergo, I’ll be just fine.” (BTW,  since I came home unscathed, with hours of ocean swimming under my belt, this method appeared to work perfectly. You’re welcome.)

So, yeah. Nobody should ever listen to what I have to say. Ever. And surely that’s been established by now.

I’ll also admit upfront that my “older generation” behavior assessments are based on my dad, who is equally ridiculous when the situation calls for it, and who surely passed down that gene to yours truly.

So now that we’ve qualified my expert credentials and have that disclaimer on the record, let’s get started on defining how all those amazing aspects of island living vary throughout the ages.


In your early 20s: You start getting ready for the evening at 10 p.m., or whenever you get off work waiting tables. You spend an hour chatting about where the crowds are, (i.e., where the cute Coast Guard personnel are going to be), and you drink a beer or take a Jell-O shot or four during said preparations. You leave at 11 p.m., get to the destination right when the party is hopping, and stay until closing when the after-hours party destination is determined -- and the night REALLY begins.

In your 30s and 40s: You start the evening at 5:30ish and go to the local pier to enjoy a good beer and a killer view before going out to eat. Then you find the best restaurant in town and wait an hour because you got there at 7 o'clock, which is when everybody goes out to eat. You complain about the wait to your partner and/or group. Then you have an amazing dinner and another drink or two before heading home while the young people trickle in for the band, citing that you have a “heavy work load” tomorrow, which is totally accurate.

In your 60s: You wake up after an awesome afternoon nap with tons of energy. Call your daughter, or your son, or your friends, and persuade them to come out and party with you. Leave the house whenever. Have a blast. Come home somewhat intoxicated, but with a new arsenal of stories of how good looking local(s) and tourist(s) flirted with you – stories that you will never share with your wife or husband. (Although your kids saw it happen and were genuinely surprised that you were such a charmer!)

The lessons learned with age: Man, I had a blast when I was young. But my goodness, there are parts of my younger self that I’m okay with leaving behind. I’m too old to start my “evenings out” at midnight because, unlike college-aged me, I have stuff to do on a Saturday morning. And yes, it may include bland tasks such as going to Ace Hardware for a new outlet cover or heading to the Manteo Farmer’s Market for fresh tomatoes for the week’s menu. Judge away.

Nevertheless, apparently these wild options are still at my disposal when I reach my retirement-age years, if my older family members’ vacation activities are any indication, and, honestly, that makes me happily look forward to the future.

(And well done, family! My mind is still blown at your collective debauchery.)


In your early 20s: Show up at the beach at 8 a.m. Or 2 p.m. Or noon. Or whenever you wake up. (In my case, it was closer to 2 p.m.) Go in the ocean and surf like mad, or swim out as far as you can and/or until you reach England. You’re young, and invincible, and who cares? Also, swim at night, and skinny dip on a regular basis, for the same reason.

In your 30s and 40s: Ocean swimming? Um, have you seen CNN? Six shark attacks in a two week period -- three of them on the Outer Banks -- so yeah, no thank you. Not a big deal, because there are tons of books at the house that have been covered in dust and are just waiting to be read. And if we’re being honest, actually having a break from work/mortgages/family responsibilities while wiggling a few toes in the sand and reading some literary smut sounds pretty darn perfect.

In your 60s: Show up at the beach at 8 a.m. Or 2 p.m. Or noon. Or whenever you wake up. Go in the ocean and surf like mad, or swim out as far as you can and/or until you reach England. You’re old, and invincible, and who cares? Also, swim at night, and skinny dip on a regular basis, for the same reason.

The lessons learned with age: I can’t wait to be my dad’s age. I just can’t. And I am so, so glad that feeling of abandon that you enjoy when you’re younger circles back.


In your early 20s: If you’re female, you break out the bikini and rock it, little strings and all. Take walks and runs on the beach, use said bikini top as a component of an outfit for casual parties, and show off the goods in all their glory. If you’re a dude, rock some board shorts, which hang just low enough to attract a little, um, attention from the bikini clad-goddesses who are subtly watching you on the sand.

In your 30s and 40s: Take out your old bikini. Try it on after you’ve had a couple drinks as a totally sadistic exercise, and shed a couple of tears during the process. Put it back in your bathing suit dresser drawer -- instead of the Goodwill box where it belongs -- based on your internal promise that at some point you will get back to your 20-year-old body.

Know that you’re lying, and invest instead in one of those awful one-piece suits that have the slimming Spandex material that is uncomfortable and prevents you from doing anything other than slightly reclining in the beach chair.

Finally, after months of inner torment, say “screw it” to everything, put that ragged bikini back on, and go swimming in the ocean – sharks and all. And know in your heart that decades-long induced beer bellies are inherently sexy. Especially on women.

In your 60s: Speedos. Or ugly board shorts and bathing suits from Wal-Mart. Or who cares. Just as long as it allows you to play in the ocean without showing any explicit junk to innocent bystanders.

The lessons learned with age: I’m never going to look as good in a bathing suit as I did when I was 20 years old. And if we’re being honest, at that age, I didn’t look that great to begin with.

As my dad said once, while grinning, “Your mother has to be all right with how I look. She signed on for it when she married me -- for better or for worse.” So I suppose I might as well showcase my older lumpy butt and equally lumpy belly in all their collective glory. (Sorry, my long-suffering but much-loved husband. If it’s any consolation, my dear, my boobs still look totally amazing.)


In your 20s: Holy cow! Someone has a full basement apartment that’s not technically legal, but is still available at the low, low, price of $1,000 a month? Count me and my seven roommates in! And what ensues will be the most memorable and life-changing series of adventures and events since 'Real World, New York." (Pause for a moment – do kids today know about "Real World?")

In your 30s and 40s: Jeezum Crow, flood insurance rates are going up again. So are standard homeowners’ insurance rates. And I never should have bought a fixer-upper. It’s like “The Money Pit,” but without Tom Hanks, and as such, not humorous at all. And they are going to re-classify my flood zone. And I’m going to have to pay a lot more money, in addition to my mortgage payments. Ain’t nobody got time and money for that. I should have never bought a house at the beach.

In your 60s: I am so glad I bought a house at the beach. This is my oasis. And I own a part of the island forever, and I can pass it on to my kids -- except for my stupid daughter who bought a fixer-upper in Avon. What the hell was she thinking?

The lessons learned with age: I personally worry too much about the details. From flood and home insurance rates to the probability of shark attacks, my life at the beach is ingrained with concerns that never entered my mind a decade or so ago. And, when I think about it, these are concerns which, seemingly, never affect my older friends and parents today.

My dad still has no problem getting attacked by a shark, as evident by his still-remaining Bucket List goal of swimming in the ocean at night under a full moon and until the sun comes up. (I have never asked if this includes skinny dipping, because it’s my dad. We’ll file that one under “Do not need to know.”)

My mom doesn’t care about stomach-enhancing bathing suits because it hinders her ability to go beachcombing and potentially battle other shell lovers over a super good find. (I had a feeling that trait was genetic.)

So I suppose the best course of action is to ride out the responsible years – the years where I’m worrying about market values, and public impressions, and productive Saturdays, and sharks, and how I look semi-naked.

And then I’ll just delve into those awesome golden years when me and my chubby hubby can rock our Speedos, (My apologies, future general public), laugh at shark-fearing fellow beach-goers, and return home to our wonderful money pit of a home.

You don’t move to Hatteras Island because it’s an economically and professionally sound decision.

But you do move here, nonetheless, and you stay, and you return again and again, because it’s always entertaining, and always awe-worthy, and always incredible, no matter what your age.

(Joy Crist has been living in the western North Carolina mountains for the past couple years, but she will throw caution to the wind and return to her money pit of a home in Avon before the year ends.)

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