A month ago, some friends (Scott & Sarah Sutton) invited us to come and hang out at the beach with them for a couple of days. Leave the story there and it sounds nice enough. But there’s more.

Scott told us that we’d be going to Atlantic Beach. Since we knew nothing about the NC beaches, that really didn’t mean much. We (our family, the Suttons & a mutual friend Casey) left after work on Thursday, stopped in Smithfield for some authentic Carolina BBQ at the original Smithfield’s location, and then meandered along some local highways until we rolled into our digs long after dark.

“Staying at the beach” can mean a lot of things- condo, dive motel, rental house, etc. This weekend it meant that we were staying at the Sutton family beach house. Scott’s great grandfather built the house 60+ years ago, right on the beach. In addition to an unbeatable location, the space provides the luxurious ambiance that comes from four generations of family and friends creating decades of memories in the same place. (I experienced the same thing when I visited my wife’s family lake house that had been in their family for 100 years.)

From the moment we walked into the Sutton’s beach house, I felt comforted. The smell was the first thing to hit me- a soothing aroma blended from aged wood, salt, well used furniture, sand, treasured shells scavenged from the beach, peeling paint and hints of last season’s sunscreen. Shifting senses, I began to notice the character that comes from lots of loving use and the constant assault of the beach elements. I’d seen the “beach cottage” look recreated in suburban homes. Seeing the real thing in person was much more charming.

After settling in for the night, we got up and took an early morning walk on the beach- hoping to beat a huge band of rain that was looming large and dark. We spent about 1/2 hour combing the shoreline for shells- like bargain hunters browsing a neighborhood yard sale. All in all Addy brought home about 10 shells and Scott helped her identify all of them in a shell guide. We spent the afternoon at the Pine Knolls Aquarium. Well worth the $8. The exhibits were attractive and natural. We attended a couple of lectures (one on turtles- Addy’s favorite) and saw a feeding at the large salt-water aquarium (which include sharks, eels and a giant grouper).

Naps, dinner, q&a, storytelling, reading and crossword/sudoku solving rounded out the evening. We woke Sat am to some serious wind. The rain came and went, but the wind was constant. Eventually, we all got brave enough to venture out.

Even though we didn’t get to stay as long as we liked, our first venture to the Carolina Coast was a success. Thanks, Scott, Sarah and Casey for letting us tag along and making us feel so welcome!