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Fire and Rain in Ocean City

There's seldom a dull moment during our annual pilgrimage 'down the shore.'

For the almost 24 years I’ve been a member of the very large Kells family, we’ve vacationed together in Ocean City, N.J., over an extended Mother’s Day weekend. We'd all get down there on a Thursday, and stay until Sunday or Monday, pretty much inhabiting an entire floor of the resort.

Perhaps the word “inhabit” is a bit tame. Take a loud Polish/Irish Catholic family, throw in some beer and other assorted alcohol, house them in cramped quarters, and let's just say that things can get pretty rowdy.

Occasionally, an errant family had the misfortune to be wedged in a room between our very vocal clan. We just did what Star Trek's master race, the “Borg,” would do, and assimilated them. It was the only humane thing to do. Besides, resistance would have been futile.

Something that has plagued our Mother's Day vacation almost every year has been rain. Not just any rain, a passing shower, or even a thunderstorm. I'm talking about torrential, coming down sideways, build-an-ark type of rain. Of course, on the day we're scheduled to leave, the sun comes out accompanied by perfect 80 degree weather and a balmy breeze.

One year, however, we watched in awe as a forecaster promised a sunny weekend. Not willing to get our hopes up, we still packed our ponchos, umbrellas and assorted ark-building supplies. To our great surprise, the weather held. We walked around as dumbfounded as Pavarotti at a rap concert. We were convinced, however, that a freak monsoon, complete with a tsunami, was on its way.

To our utter amazement, the monsoon blew in on the day we left. For once.

Having so many people gathered in one area, we've had a few “incidents” over the years. But nothing beats the time that fire played a starring role during our vacation.

As a result of the ever present rain, every time we'd come back to the condo, we'd be soaked. Due to the lack of laundry facilities, we'd often turn to my mother-in-law, Gretchen, who is a highly skilled oven-drying virtuoso. After the kids would peel their clothes off, she'd have them dried in no time.

One afternoon, my daughter, Elyse, came home drenched. Unfortunately, she couldn't find Gretchen. So, she stuck her favorite pair of jeans in the oven and began the drying process. The only thing was, being a novice, she put the jeans directly on the heating element. Then, to speed the drying time, she turned the oven on to 450 degrees.

Thankfully, the room came equipped with a fire extinguisher.

The fireball was doused in short order, but Elyse's jeans were no more. Sadly, that wasn't our only brush with fire that particular weekend.

Two days after we'd checked in, we met our neighbor, Roseanne. She seemed pleasant enough--at first. We never saw her during the daytime after our original meeting, though. The few rays of sun peeking through the clouds must have been toxic for her, or maybe they made her shimmer.

But when the sun went down, she turned into Katie Couric on crack: up all hours of the night entertaining quite the variety of visitors. We knew this because her door was constantly being slammed open or closed. And for some reason, she didn't seem to like her apartment in the evening hours, as the shared hallways held some odd fascination for her and her plethora of drunk, obnoxious friends.

None of them seemed to have a decent grasp of the English language, either. I have never heard curse words strung together with such stunning consistency, gleeful abandon and utter ignorance of all the other non-offensive words in the English language in my many years. I kind of felt sorry for all the other verbs, nouns and adjectives that must have died from neglect within their limited vocabulary.

But I digress.

One evening after dinner, I smelled something. It smelled like fire, which of course I'd just smelled the day before following the oven drying/burning incident. Sadly, I'm becoming a connoisseur of the scent.

I looked out our window and discovered that our neighbor (who we'd taken to calling various names, such as Elvira) had brought along her hibachi. Problem was, she didn't seem to be knowledgeable of the correct (and safe) way to get the coals going.

I say that because the hibachi appeared to be engulfed in fire--white hot flames were leaping to the second floor. Although I'm no expert, I'm guessing that the reason for the fireball may have involved copious amounts of lighter fluid--the acrid smell was a bit of a giveaway. Add to that the fact that under normal circumstances, throwing a shrimp on the barbie doesn't require the services of the fire department, and you get why I suspected lighter fluid's involvement.

To my dismay, Vampira was nowhere in sight--probably because it was still light out. Not wanting to be marshmallows in our neighbor's bonfire, I began packing furiously. Matt and several others were battling to keep the fire contained, and thankfully, were successful.

Blessedly, the fire department didn't have to come out after all and no one was hurt. We couldn't help but remark that this just had to be the only clear day of the vacation.

And that's when God proved He has a sense of humor. Dark clouds gathered and rain came teeming down.

Thankfully, the next few days passed by uneventfully. True to form, the little rainstorm that began after we'd successfully avoided being the main course at the Princess of Darkness' cookout lingered. We also had a lightning storm, but it was a breathtaking sight as it lit up the ocean.

Turns out, God's also an amazing artist.

Sunday came, and it was time to go. We took one last stroll on the boardwalk, huddled under our umbrellas, and then packed our suitcases and began the journey home. And as you can probably guess, as soon as we crossed the bridge, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

Oh, well, there's always next year.

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