There was a time when I didn’t know what that meant–OBX. I would see it on bumper/window stickers, and I would wonder. Now I always assume that everyone knows what it stands for, but I suspect that is not the case. OBX=The Outer Banks, North Carolina. And it’s almost time for my family’s annual pilgrimage there.

The photo that headlines my blog was taken on our first trip to the OBX–Corolla, specifically–which is where we still end up every year. That first year, we stayed on the Sound side and that pier/dock in the picture was right behind our rental home. Not only does the stark nature of the photograph contrast well with the title of my blog, but looking at it brings back (mostly) good memories every time I post. I say mostly good because as novices, that first year, we let our kids wade through the water beneath that dock every day only to find out at the end of the week that the Sound is inhabited by water moccasins–oops!

Since then, we have almost always stayed on the ocean side. This will be our seventh summer vacation in Corolla. Before then, our beach location of choice was Bethany Beach, Delaware. We had to switch eventually because there were no houses big enough (at the right price) to accommodate our crew, which has totaled up to 28 at its peak.

That is because our annual, summer beach trip is spent with extended family–my husband’s family–and it has been a tradition for the past 22 years. There have been a few variations along the way with regard to location, duration, and attendance due to health issues, scheduling, other trips, and families moving out of the area, but for the most part, for the past 22 years, we have spent 8 days at the beach with our large, extended family, in a big house near the ocean.

This year, there will be between 18 or 19 of us (exact number yet to be determined), and unlike other vacations and destinations where the point is to see and do and experience as much as possible within a limited amount of time, the point of going to the OBX is pretty much to do nothing. That is the beauty of this vacation: time spent doing nothing but relaxing on the beach, cooking meals together, taking walks to get ice cream in the evening, shopping, swimming in the pool, playing volleyball, biking, reading, watching movies–basically, the same stuff you can do at home except for the beach and the ocean. There’s no boardwalk (thankfully). No amusement parks to speak of. No real attractions, although the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk is nearby. For a few years, on the last full day of vacation, we used to make the trek to a local water sports outlet where we would rent jet skis and take them out in a controlled area for wild, fast rides around the Sound with kids on the back, arms wrapped tightly around the driver, or each other. I use the term “we” lightly, as I never attempted to pilot a jet ski. I have a fairly good grasp of my abilities, and I’m pretty sure driving a jet ski is not one of them, particularly with a young passenger depending upon me for survival. They would have a better chance tempting fate with the water moccasins.

So why bother? I used to wonder that. At first, when we started doing these large, family vacations, and we’d spend a lot of time preparing food to take along, or lots of time at the grocery store at the beach buying food to prepare only to end up with a kitchen to clean up just like home, I’d think–this isn’t a vacation! We’re doing all the things we do at home. And it used to be so much work to get ready to go! We all had little kids (we started these trips when there were only 2 grandchildren ages 3 and 1 1/2, my oldest daughter being the younger one of those) and there was so much stuff to haul–playpens, high chairs, cribs, air mattresses, toys, bedding, towels, baby food, strollers, beach toys…eventually there were 16 grandchildren and 12 adults. It was crazy at times, and tiring, but always fun.

But now I don’t wonder why anymore, because I know why. It’s a tradition. It’s a time to slow down and catch up and reconnect. And even though things have quieted down and the craziness has subsided (this year the youngest child is 8), and we’re more concerned with whether we have enough wine to get through the evening than if the kids are occupied and happy (they occupy themselves now and many of them aren’t kids anymore), all that has come before has formed the foundation for the tradition, which I have no doubt will live on in one form or another indefinitely.

Because the thing about a tradition is that it’s firm even while the specifics are fluid. For instance, we no longer take large quantities of homemade soup or lasagna or baked goods, which we spent hours slaving over in the days before the trip. Our dinners now are simple–grilled meat or fish; grilled, fresh, local vegetables–and there’s always a big salad and dense, chewy, crusty bread.  Take-out works well, too. And if someone–or some family–can’t go along one year, then they’ll probably go the next, or the one after. Because there will always be a “one after.” Even though the matriarch of this family–the lovely lady who started this grand tradition–has not been with us for a few years now, the tradition has survived her, which is probably exactly what she had planned all along. Continuity can be seamless even when life interrupts with a vengeance.

Tradition is a wonderful thing. It lasts as long as there are people who want it to last and are willing and able to uphold it. As long as the framework remains in place, the specifics–people, dates, locations–can change from year to year.

When it’s time, perhaps yet another destination will replace the OBX.  But the tradition will remain in place, and I bet wherever the location, it will involve a big house, lots of family, good food, and time spent doing nothing, which is something when you think about it.