I never knew my grandparents. On either side. But on one Friday night in June, I felt like my mom’s parents, Daniel (or D.A., as he was called) and Helen McDonald, would be awfully proud to see how we had all turned out. You see, that Friday was the last night of a weeklong beach trip with my family. And by family, I mean my husband and daughter, my mom and dad, my sister, her husband and their two boys … but I also mean the other 43 people gathered at Emerald Isle that week that I call family.
Starting back in the early 1970s, my mom’s family started an annual summer beach trip. My mom had five sisters. And three of them had four children apiece. Add in me and my sister, and you get, well, a lot of kids. Fourteen to be exact. Fourteen heads to count when we were out in the ocean. Fourteen place settings when we ate meals together at the table (always before the adults). Fourteen places (not necessarily beds) to sleep. Fourteen bathing suits hanging on the deck after our (generally) three-daily outings to the ocean. Fourteen cousins who, although we didn’t live close to each other, were, and still are as close as any family can be.
I am proud to be part of that family. After all, McDonald is my middle name. Literally. And I am not alone. Two of my cousins, George and Patrick, also have McDonald as a middle name. And it does not stop there; it continues to the next generation, where my nephew, Ross, my cousin Lea’s son Kiel and my cousin Chris’s daughter Molly (Mary) all have McDonald for a middle name.
It is also kind of crazy that we like to use the same names over and over again in our family. Like Candace for instance. At one time, I had a great aunt Candace, an Aunt Candace, a cousin Candace and Cousin Betsy’s daughter, Candace Murphy. Also among us (although some have been added due to marriage) there have been two Sarahs, two Patricks, two Phebes, two Annahs, a Kathryn and a Katherine, two Helens, two Peters and two Toms. There is never an excuse to forget a name, just refer to the above list.
I never had the luxury of having extended family nearby. But that made those yearly beach trips that much more special. Over the years, we went to Long Beach, Emerald Isle, Holden Beach, Garden City, Debordieu, Nags Head – it didn’t matter, just as long as there was an ocean and a place for us all to be together. Together to play cards, play on the beach and, mostly, to tell stories. And do you know what most of those stories were about? Past beach trips, of course!
There’s the, “remember how one year all the girl cousins (eight in all) slept in one room” story. And then there’s the “remember when Uncle Pete yelled at us for eating his boiled peanuts” story. And “remember how Uncle Gene used to call the boyfriends of all of his nieces ‘jerks’” story. Stories that still make us laugh to this day. And stories that probably only make sense to us.
I imagine we are a tough crowd to break into. God bless you husbands and wives who have joined us; you are no less our family than those of us related by birth. So as I sat on the deck of a beach house in Emerald Isle that Friday night, I agreed with my cousin Jeff that D.A. and Helen would be proud. And when he asked, “Same time next year?” I just nodded my head.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Sarah McDonald Kirkman is the District Attorney for Alexander and Iredell counties and a proud member of the McDonald family.