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Essays

Tables and Worlds Apart

Walking on the Marginal Way in Ogunquit after two years of being away makes me feel like I never left. There are fewer of us this year, with some cousins away at work and others deciding to forego the annual trip with the extended family for a more exciting vacation. Even though the crowd is smaller, I’m happy to be back.    

The sun begins to sink down as we set off on the mile-long trek towards Perkin’s Cove. There is a dazzling view of the beach from the path, with seagulls lazily coasting in the air and some beachgoers trying to take in the last few rays of the sun. We can even see some sailboats in the distance. The walk along the Marginal Way has its perks. The stunning views of the waves crashing against the rocks. The soothing crunch of gravel underfoot. Moving my legs after a day’s hard work while lounging in the hot tub starts to build up my appetite. I already know what restaurant we’re going to—Jackie’s is the only place to take large parties at the last minute—and what I’m going to order. One of my habits in advance of going to dinner is looking at the menu ahead of time. 

We all chat as we huff and puff along the crowded and narrow path. I laugh along with my cousins as we blink the sun out of our eyes. Somehow, I always manage to leave my sunglasses back in the hotel room. 

And then, in the distance, the restaurant appears: we complete our journey and sit down, stomachs rumbling and hands eager for menus. The “kids,” or everyone under 30 by now, and the adults are at their respective tables, just like it has always been. 

I agree to split mussels with my cousin Erin, and I order the shrimp scampi as my entree. When the appetizers arrive, I can finally fulfill my stomach’s demand for food. Erin and I bring up the same topics of work and school as we pry open the shells and devour the briny mussels. Our parents at the neighboring table howl with laughter as some uncle draws out yet another “Seinfeld” joke or an aunt relates a story from work. The younger generation will never understand the “Seinfeld” references, but they manage to come up at every family gathering. And without fail, at least one person manages to order a cranberry juice with seltzer. 

There is always something interesting about the great divide between the tables. Most of my cousins are adults by now, with the two high schoolers lingering behind. The waitresses set a variety of plates down, including my shrimp scampi and a plain hamburger for my younger cousin. The twenty-somethings flex their actual adulthood with gestures for a refill of pinot grigio. Even with the age gaps at the kids’ table, some things tie us together in a way that solidifies the few feet of space between parents and children. The confusion surrounding dated television jokes is just the beginning of our bond.

As an only child, my cousins are the closest thing I have to brothers and sisters. They’re around my age, working through the same things that I am. The kids’ table is for those of us who are still figuring out our lives. The people that we grew up with but don’t really know. The people that are sometimes like my siblings, yet those who I feel like I constantly have to catch up with. Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives, and sometimes the cousins are the only people I can confide in. All this because we share appetizers and pass each other bread.

As we wind down to the last few bites, I’ll share some laughs with my family. After all, it’s our last night of vacation. A celebration of hard times being over and a promise to stay with one another through the hard times ahead. We fill our stomachs with pasta and seafood and too many rolls, but I’ll always be hungry for more moments like these. I bookmark this feeling in my mind. When my only responsibility is to dine and converse and enjoy the view. And when I’m missing the blend of intense Red Sox discussions, rants about college, and the next new struggle of being a teenager, I’ll open to this page again. 

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