One of the places that I went while I was on my stateside trip was Seaside, Oregon.
This is a town that is hard for me to explain, because it strikes right at the heart of middle-class American life in a way that makes me nostalgic and a bit sad.
My biological family (who abandoned me, as you all know) used to go to Rio De Mar in California each summer for a family reunion. So, the adopted family also having a beach reunion can -in and of itself- cut a little deep.
However, there is more too it than that.
Seaside is a town full of what I can only call classic American kitsch and, it can make anyone Generic American feel nostalgic. I fear that bit might need explaining…
I hate to talk about race/culture differences because people always attack people who bring it up (like if you ignore it, it might go away.) But if I want to be honest about the Seaside experience I have no choice but to mention it.
See, as a kid I went to a summer camp at Sierra College. My two best friends there were a Chinese girl who went by “Christine” (so white people could say her name) and a black girl named Michele.
I used to sit and eat lunch with them every day, and we talked about our lives and our toys, and things we did with our parents.
Their stories were different than mine.
Christine went to CLC (a kind of Chinese school,) watched her mom pay Mahjong, and helped out at the family business. They went on summer trips to visit family in China, too. Christine always brought food that I liked, so we traded lunches. She was excited to eat my peanut butter and jelly, and I liked to eat her cold noodles and rice crackers.
As for Michele, she usually had a bought lunch because her mom didn’t have time to pack her one. Her family came from Somolia and she didn’t talk much because English wasn’t her first language, but she did tell us bits about being Muslim and attending an Eid festival.
I want to stress that their experiences were no less American than mine. But they are not Generic American. They are uniquely American. (Which is maybe cooler since diversity is kind of our thing as a country.)
There are differences in race/culture in this country, and there is no point in denying that some of us had experiences that others didn’t.
The point is: Seaside is nostalgic for people raised in the Generic American culture of the 80’s and 90’s. Christine would not find Seaside nostalgic because her childhood cultural experience is not represented there. But, mine is.
Also, a disclaimer: When I say race/culture it is because it is not one or the other that determines experience. I know white people from Poland who were raised Polish rather than Generic American. I also know people of Chinese or Mexican decent who had the same Generic American experience as me with crystal-growing kits and light brights and the whole thing. So when I say Generic American, it is exactly that. It is the experience that Americans have when they are not raised with extras, and only get the generic culture laying around.
I hope that makes sense, because I think it helps explain Seaside.
Seaside is a small town with restaurants, an aquarium, shops, and boardwalk attractions like bumper cars and mini golf. It really can’t be described as anything other than Classic American Kitsch.
I saw a Simon game in a store and remembered the hours I used to spend playing with one of those. I saw a tie dye kit and remembered the adults bringing us one when I was a kid to keep us busy while they sunbathed (and yes, of course we all ended up covered in dyes of various colors, as you do.) I saw bottles to put sand in, bags of shells for sale, and every other generic thing you ever had or saw as a kid.
I guess some of it is classically west coast. I mean, I hear that the shells and beaches are different on the east coast. I have never been to an east coast beach, so I really couldn’t say. But my husband is from Massachusetts and he says its different over there.
Seaside has a hat store full of silly hats that everyone goes in and tries on because the photos are amazing. There are squid hats and pizza hats. There are huge hats that look like Jacky-O would have worn them, and silly hats for festivals or Halloween.
There is also a carousel, because on the west coast I feel like every beach town is required to have one. The fee was $2, which I considered a bit steep, but what can you do? It might be things I remember from the 80’s, but the prices have inflated (as, I guess, is to be expected.)
And of course, there are store full of junk. I don’t know what else to call it. It’s just stuff. I know lots of people like stuff and work their whole lives to acquire it. But, as someone who moves all the time, stuff is just dead weight to me. I guess that means I don’t appreciate it properly. Sorry. But you might appreciate it, so I took lots of pictures.
We have been stationed in Guam for three years now. Before that I was in South Korea for three years. The plants are strikingly different in those places, and so there is something about walking down the streets in Seaside and seeing pots full of succulent cactus. There were also lots of lavender and hollyhocks, and post of petunias and violets.
As you know if you know me at all, I really love plants. I notice them more than I think most people do, and they are a huge part of what I feel to be the soul of a place.
Anyway, Seaside plants are of the same sort that you find in Northern California (Where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.) So, it feels a lot like home. I even saw California poppies in front of the little museum the town has.
The air is amazing too.
I post of lot of pictures of Guam. When you look at one, you can see what Guam is like, but you cannot feel what Guam is like. Each picture of a beach in Guam should come with the oppressive heat and sun that only the equator can provide, and mosquitoes buzzing in your ear the way that they always are in Guam. That’s the full experience, you know?
By the same token, pictures of Seaside don’t really cover what it is like. You are missing the biting cold wind that makes you snuggle into your hoodie, and the clean smell of the air that makes you feel happy and alive.
Another thing that I found striking was to remember the sound of the waves. In Guam, the waves break out of the reef, far away from the beach. But in Seaside, the waves come right up to the shore and you can hear them breaking. It’s a lovely sound.
My adopted mom loves the salt water taffy. I think that was a big part of the west coast experience when she was young, about 50 years ago. She talks fondly of seeing it made in store windows and such. I tried it and it is rough on the teeth. (I have a lot of fillings.) However, I don’t hate it.
There are also a variety of other restaurants. When my friends drove down from Seattle to see us, we even found one on the main street that allows dogs (since they brought their new puppy.)
There are quite a few places to get elephant ears, cotton candy, and hot dogs. I guess that is pretty standard boardwalk food, although Seaside doesn’t have a boardwalk. I guess to sum it up, if you were feeling like an old-fashioned root beer in a glass bottle and something on a stick, you would be able to find it in Seaside.
There are also a lot of places that are only a short drive away. Canon Beach, for example, is just up the road and full of all kinds of lovely art galleries and bakeries. It’s a nice place to spend a day.
There is also Astoria, just up the coast. It’s the town where they filmed a movie called Goonies, and also another cute little ocean-side town full of kites for sale and beach blankets.
We went to Hug Point this year, and the beach there is charming. I also loved the tide pools, full of sea anemones and star fish. There is even an old section of highways down on the beach, which is completely covered in barnacles and muscles.
So, if you get a beach house in Seaside and then want to take short adventures, there is no shortage of nearby places to go and see.
I guess my strong emotional reaction to Seaside is rooted in growing up on the west coast in a very generic american household of middle class people. It is exactly the kind of place that people like I grew up with go on vacation, and it is really intense that my adopted family should hold their reunion there.
It is no accident that I was re-reading the Harry Potter series on this trip.
The family reminds me of the Weasleys. They are not rich or fancy, but they love each other deeply. And they adopted Harry because he was alone in the world and they felt that everyone deserves a loving family. That is, as far as I can tell, the same reason that the Layman family adopted me.
It’s not exactly the same as having a biological family. Nothing is. But when you don’t have a biological family, the next best thing is to have loving people adopt you. I am very lucky to have been adopted by the family, and I am very lucky that they let me come to their reunions.
If any of you are also west coast kids, then I hope you can appreciate why Seaside is such a charming place.
And just because it is so different from my beach (or at least, the beach I live on), here is the ocean at Hug Point: