Senses of Summer
My parents were wannabe hippies. They were traditional in many ways, and a little “out there” when it came to things like naming our beach house on the North Carolina coast “The Submarine in the Cornfield” to be exact. There are various stories about how this name came to be but that doesn’t matter_it was a magical place.
Our family spent summer vacations there, creating some of my most meaningful childhood memories. We were right on the waterfront. As a five year old, I would wake to the sound of the surf and the slow, staccato clack of the wooden blinds tapping against the window frame from the soft, incoming breeze. When Dad was there he would snuggle me and tell stories (mostly made up) about entire worlds and families that existed in a universe on my neck. He called it the “Sugar Triangle,“ an area similar but different to the Bermuda Triangle I imagine. The smells of bacon from the kitchen permeated the house.
My brother and I would spend hours playing in the sun and surf. Dad would take me out into the ocean further than I could touch and bounce me on his knee while singing his trademark Caki-O Song, “Caki-O, How I love you so, Caki-O.” It was total bliss.
The sun gets high in the sky and by the end of the day there was sand everywhere: on my feet, in my soggy terrycloth bathing suit, and stuck all over my arms and hair. YUK! I can feel my eyes tearing up as the sting from the salt water mixes with the coconut sunscreen. I am now miserable as I am told it’s time to go in. Hot and sweaty, the trek from the blistering beach to the wooden stairs of the Submarine seems to go on FOREVER as I drag my towel and beach toys. Just as I am about to step up on to the first step to our porch I feel a spur in my toe. “OUCH!” Tears well up and I am in full-on tantrum mode. Wow, this day has gone from Sugar to Shinola-can it get any worse??
The #1 rule of the house was to wash your feet before coming inside. So I abide. Ahhh…I revel in RELIEF washing the grit from my skin. My loving mother wraps me in a dry towel and sits me down at the table to enjoy a cool piece of sweet, juicy watermelon on a piece newspaper. Heaven.
On overcast days, we would go crabbing on the waterway. We would pile in our orange, wood paneled station wagon (named Marybelle) and head to the other side of the island. We baited the squirmy crustaceans with chicken necks on a string. The sulfur, rotten-egg smell of the marsh provides a backdrop as we caught one after another with a hand net_the record being 50 (well 51, but one somehow escaped and is MIA to this day)!
In the evening as the pink sun was setting I would perch on the deck while Dad would prepare the charcoal grill for steaks, burgers or seafood. I would rock back and forth in the hammock as the aromatic smoke from the grill (or was that cigar smoke?) rose to the sky. If we weren’t dining at home we would go OUT to dinner to our favorite local restaurant “The Islander.” The proprietor Pearl was like family and was always doting on me. There was a parquet dance floor and Dad would take me out with him for at least one dance_with him on his knees. The Shirley Temples flowed freely and the fried shrimp was crispy, salty and chewy on the inside.
This is where my love of the beach ignited.
Fast forward 35 years and I am fortunate to live by a beach. I’m out there daily, whether for a run or an afternoon stroll. There is peace by the water. One day, I caught sight of the sun’s reflection on the ocean; it looked to be made up of millions of little rays bouncing off the small rolling waves approaching the shore. The beams of light reminded me of the stars. I glanced at the blue sky above and contemplated how the stars are there even though we cannot see them during the day. The sand and every individual grain was sparkling too. The unity of the land and seascape caused me to pause and breathe at the beauty and timelessness of it all. The miniscule bits of sand mimic the sparkle in the water and I feel as if everything is One.
I notice the time and must get back to reality. Still sticky, and with the biting Coppertone again seeping into the ducts of my eyes, I make my way off the beach to the warm boardwalk. Something about today was different as I thought about this “post-day-on-the beach mucky” feeling.
In the south, where it can get very humid and seemingly unbearable, I thought about how GRATEFUL I am for these senses: the grit in my toes, the hot cement on my bare feet. I rustle my flip flops from my bag and am reminded of people who are bound by their disabilities. Some may never have this delightful experience. There are people who have no sight and may never see the ocean. There are those that live so far from the coast they will never know the joy of the mighty sea. I am so lucky!
What I know for certain is that I relish the sand on my feet and the salty feeling after a day on the water. There is no griping from this beach bum. It is perfection…and Mom, I am sorry if I drag some of it in with me_as they say, “you can shake the sand from your shoes, but never from your soul!” It will give the house some character.