Fireflies, Sharks’ Teeth, Mac ‘n’ Cheese on Carolina Beach!

The Day Trip Issue

By Nan Leaptrott

The comfortable clutter of winter is plunked away. Warm winds stretch into dazzling summer. The air is salty, the sky Carolina blue. Distant sounds of wrinkled waves are pleasing, unpretentious.  The invitation to “Come on down” is too imperative to resist. So off to the beach I go, all seven grandkids in tow, to explore the serendipity of treasures floating on sea breeze wings, vestiges hidden in damp sand on edge of ocean’s floor, and more, so much more.

The sun slowly melts into a pool of bright orange. Vibrant shades of magenta kiss the horizon; warm breezes float across the ocean while calm dusk settles in and the electrical dance of light begins. The girls and I walk among the salty seaweed and marshes, toes digging quietly in the sand.  We watch. As if on cue the little brown fireflies appear out of the dark; they charm us with their magical flinches of light.  Summer frolic, a delightful tradition for us girls is worth more than a passing glance; we make a memory. We wash mayonnaise jars clean, poke holes in the lids with an old-fashioned ice pick, place a little grass in the bottom of each jar.  We move about quietly, inch up close, watch these mystical creatures show off their musical performance of flickering light. We wait. At a seemingly good time we raise our jars, catch a few fluttering fireflies. We transport the lighted jars carefully to the girls’ bedroom. In case thunder catches them unawares at midnight they won’t be afraid. The safe glow will scare away the darkness of the storm’s interruption. As dawn breaks the girls crawl out of bed, go outside, release their enchanted find; at dusk there’ll be more fireflies to capture to shed their glorious beam of light on them as they sleep tight.

Perhaps, one of the more exciting escapes for my impressionable male grandkids is at dawn. In this brief interval when seaweed, beaded with dewfall, glows with a translucent radiance, we rise early to search for shark’s teeth. The boys and I take our shovels, pails, kitchen sifters, set our course, ready to use our hands if needed but first we must find a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. No morning journey is a worthy trip without these luscious sweet treats. As we wolf down the sticky gooiness we head to the beach. We walk north when the tide is low; after all there is a science for finding sharks’ teeth. We chatter, each boy in competition: who will find the most, the biggest. I tell them not to worry. Sharks have many rows of teeth, at least four. When a shark loses one tooth, there will be hundreds more to come but they need to dig deep through the crushed shell debris and matted sand to find them and not to be fooled by gray/black look-alikes. These can be crumbled easily but the real teeth can’t be broken with mere hands. They go to work as if they will find the most treasured shark’s tooth ever. When our pails are full we venture back to our beach chairs. There we sift through the sand’s clutter; look carefully at every ocean morsel.  As happy searchers we head back to the cottage.

Soon the aroma of raw peanuts coming to a roaring boil, shells cracking open, fills the air. The mouth-watering taste of salty nuttiness keeps the grandkids happy ‘till the mac ‘n’ cheese is dipped in paper cups, ready to serve. There’s nothing better than your mac ‘n’ cheese hot out of the oven, all seven proclaim. Compliments will get you most anything you want. Now hurry down to the beach the mac ‘n’ cheese will be there sooner than you can ride a high wave. Whenever the grandkids and I gather under a beach umbrella at noon it’s always mac ‘n’ cheese on Carolina beach.

Mid-afternoon sun is too hot to linger on the beach so we seek shade back at the cottage on the screened-in porch. Everyone rushes to get the first chance to sit in the squeaking porch swing. Others play a spirited game of Liverpool Rummy, Scrabble, or pretend they are sea warriors as they romp around outside in the fisherman’s boat. When these activities grow tiresome there is the never-ending Monopoly game, which gives us all a chance to land on Boardwalk with the winner feasting on the coveted prize of Miniature Hershey Chocolate Bars.

Eventually, little ones and grown-up kids alike get tired of cottage games and need more beach time. Long legs and short skip to ocean’s edge; the older grandkids ride the high waves, the younger ones pick up sand dollars hidden beneath the salty mush. After a while, we journey on to the Boardwalk. Along the way we sip a Coke, but only a half bottle at a time (house rules).  At the Boardwalk our favorite thing to do is to chase each other in bumper cars and play a little putt-putt. (I always win). Before we leave we must stop by the old arcade.  Each of us put a few quarters in the machines, while he tiny, smaller kids flop on their belly to round up any money people drop. Dirty and grimy we trudge back to our cottage.

Outside, we gather around the huge oak tree whose branches hang low. A long rope with an old tire perches high on a sturdy limb with enough rope length to entice me to swing the youngest slowly, urging older kids to fly to the sky and jump far to land tumble-weed style on the grass patches below. Squeals of delight are heard blocks away when smaller tykes climb on the weather-beaten rubber seat, and an older kid pushes daringly; with the rush of wind in their faces they can’t be happier.

One of the highlights of our beach trips, according to my grubby seven, are family dinners served buffet-style. In their words, the aroma fills the salty air and makes everyone’s mouth water unremittingly. According to one, if you are sly and skillful you can slip into the kitchen, nonchalantly sneak a piece of fried chicken, do a pick and roll out the door to the porch to consume. However this only increases your need for more of the home-cooked goodness and one can only do the pick and roll so many times before capture.

Summer! Trips! Seven grubby grandkids and me! Simple elegant fun: fireflies, sharks’ teeth, mac ‘n’ cheese on Carolina Beach!


Carolina Beach  |  Kure Beach 

Oak Island  |  Ocean Isle Beach

Outer Banks  Corolla Island  | Duck

 Hatteras Island  |  Kitty Hawk  |  Manteo

(better make this a few days to enjoy it all!)

Emerald Isle  |  Southport

Topsail Island

Wilmington Beach  |  Wrightsville Beach