The dawn is heavy with the promise of another summer day patiently waiting to be born. In the stillness of this early hour, the sky to the east lightens behind billows of perfect clouds. The orchestration is breath-taking.
Further down the beach, the sand slides into pink, and the old house we are staying in is silhouetted against the sky.
The sun smiles slowly, warming the sand, gradually spreading golden light across the dark water. Near the shore in the thin tidal pools left by the ebbing tide, the water is sprinkled with specks of sunlight that sparkle like a captured fields of stars. A lazy offshore wind caresses the skin. Tiny waves rush relentlessly against the edges of the sand. At this moment, early morning, there is only the sound of wind and surf, and the hungry, breakfast demands of shore-birds and ravenous gulls.
Hours pass along this North Carolina beach without too much notice; moving with its own rhythm. Time listens to another voice here, below the humpback dunes slumbering at the sea’s edge, like some prehistoric animal. The ocean is soothing, mysterious: beautiful to me.
I hear laughter in the distance but I don’t bother raising my head to see where it is coming from. The ocean has me completely under its spell, and I keep my eyes shut against the invasion, savoring this feeling of isolation. I drift back lazily into memories of long, slow, summers past; family vacations, old friends; a time when moments slid by like old songs.
My children were babies really. When we went to the beach then, we had a caravan of buckets, shovels, playpens, diapers, oils and coolers filled with baby bottles, soft drinks and Melba toast. Naturally we had the radio in tow. “Venus” is pounding out over the airwaves; and the entire beach seems to have their radios tuned to the same station.
My blonde-haired babies are slick as eels from the strong suntan oil, that I am obliged to apply constantly. They burn so easily.
We are at the southern end of the beach, near the pier; sprawled out on towels and blankets, a small army of mothers with a string of assorted toddlers and infants.
For that month of summer we have pooled our resources and rented this barn of a house at the beach.
We take turns with the kitchen duties, and this has worked; well, most of the time. We take turns watching each other’s children, and this too has worked most of the time. If we aren’t too tuckered after putting the children to bed, we play a few hands of Canasta or Bridge and smoke long cigarettes that burn our eyes and make us cough. We drink strong coffee and warm our hands against the rounded side of our cups; and we talk, profoundly, through the evenings of our youth. Then again the children were not always cooperative and we might just end up collapsing in bed.
So, everything considered, it had been a fine gathering. Most of us are slightly over-cooked and over-tired, but we are resilient, carefree and even youthfully serious at times.
Somehow each of us knows that this time will never come again. And indeed it didn’t. There were, through the years, other trips to the beach, other groups of friends, even some of the old faces. But, there never was that time again, that “special time with that special group of friends.” Our lives would spin us like tops, and the years would rush by so frantically we hardly had time to catch our breath.
So many times I find myself wondering what happened to them all. I hope they remembered with fondness that month we spent exploring each other’s lives.
I bet they remember the diapers, sand pails and those precious, sun-kissed babies we cuddled and rocked and gratefully put to bed under Carolina-blue skies.
Confidently we sat, six young “Ya-Ya Sisters,” noses burned, swathed in Noxema. Hair in curlers, two piece bathing suits that always reeked of babies. We were so attached to life, love, children. Still we somehow took it all pretty much in stride. It was “our time.”
There were no husbands, well except on weekends. They were not diaper-changing husbands, but we were happy to see them. We looked forward to their masculine companionship, and “Old Spice” embraces. But, secretly we were not overly sad to see them leave. We went back to our slovenly ways and admitted we needed that month at the beach with only children to mother.
With little warning I am brought abruptly back to the present.
An impatient four and a half-year old beauty, with sun-streaked, sugar brown hair, tousled from breezes that tickle her lovely smile; giggles in my ear. She has on a rainbow colored bathing suit matching her lively. sparkling eyes. Toe nails peeking through plastic sandals, match bright, red fingernails. My goodness, she is dazzling!
As I shake out the blanket, I look into the face of this child and see all my yesterdays. Ah, such a part of me …Maddi Gra looks at me seriously, puts her tiny hand in mine; and I hold on tightly to this child, more tightly than I should; determined, this time, this time Lord, to savor every sweet second. She chatters away and I look at her adoringly, as we walk slowly down the beach.
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society.