Live, Laugh, Love

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The beach is a happening place. People of all shapes, sizes, and ages walk past the dunes and let their hair down, and people watchers are guaranteed to see interesting sights, some that that make you smile and others that give you pause for thought.

Here are some things I heard, saw, and smelled within five minutes as I walked along the strand.

  • “Daddy, I caught one, the young boy said, holding up a tiny fish for his father to see. His dad laughed. I grinned.
  • A few steps further brought the smell of cigar smoke wafting my way, and instantly I saw its source—a middle-aged man sat in a beach chair, smoking cigar and fishing. Ah, the life of Riley, I thought.
  • And then there was a grandfather with frizzy gray hair walking along cradling his his sleeping blonde-haired granddaughter. The toddler was leaning against his chest and shoulder as he cradled her in his arms.

I realize the above might not seem that spectacular, but I jotted them down later for one reason: they all lifted my spirits. Love, relaxation, and joie de vivre were common themes of all three scenarios.

As I continued my walk along the beach, I began thinking about my hair and the hassle of coloring my roots every few weeks. Such a bother, I thought and wondered how much longer I would be willing to do it. Within seconds, I spotted a woman who appeared to be about my age or a little younger with no hair at all.

She was playing with grandchildren and talking with her adult children as though she were the happiest person on the beach. And it’s not like she was trying to hide her baldness. On the contrary, she was not even wearing a hat to protect her scalp. She wore large fashionable earrings in her lobes, and sported a lime green cover-up. Her message seemed to be live and love every day!

Embarrassed by my vanity and humbled by her appearance, I walked on. I observed people throwing Frisbees, football, darts, and horseshoes and soon forgot the grandmother. But not for long.

On my return trip I saw her from a distance as she stood in the edge of the water with several little children. The other adults, likely the children’s parents, sat in a semi-circle a few feet away. I looked from them to her and back to them again and locked eyes with one of the young women. She was taking a video of the bald woman in the lime green cover-up  who was laughing with the children in the surf. Mother and daughter? I wondered.

I backed up and walked behind the group rather than between them and the group in the ocean, and as I did, the photographer/video-taper gave me a thumbs-up. Sobered, I walked back to my spot on the beach. That evening, I shared that scene with some family members, reinforcing the fact that people and love and memories are more important than looks, money, and prestige.

“So does that mean you’re going to stop coloring your hair?” someone kidded.

“No, not yet,” I said. “I’m not as far along the path as she is.” They knew what I was trying to say, though. Live, laugh, love.

Six weeks later, I’m thinking of the little boy who caught a minnow, the cigar-smoking fisherman, the toddler-toting grandfather, and the grandmother in lime. Where are they today? Do they have moments when they recollect their moments by the sea and smile? I hope so, and I hope all will find a way  to rekindle the joy they demonstrated that summer day.

Come Back!

Having spent the last couple of weeks on the coast of South Carolina, I’ve had several opportunities to people watch, and one morning I witnessed less than a minute of a family’s life that spoke volumes about their dynamic. I think it might be good material for a Human Growth and Development discussion board topic.

Anxious to begin reading a new novel and just “chill” for a while, I was walking down the beach heading back to the chair when I noticed a teenager in the water. He had a different look about him that captured my attention, especially when I saw him angrily gesturing “go away” to a woman standing in the surf, probably his mother. The teen’s facial features, posture, movements, and expression all indicated some physical and mental challenges. A man, presumably his father, was standing in the ocean beckoning him forward at the same time the mother was stepping closer and closer to him.

“You’re going out too deep!” her manner seemed to say.

“Go back. Leave me alone,” the young man’s body language said. “Let me breathe!”

“Come on, Son,” the dad’s gesture said. “The water’s fine.”

As the son was angrily pushing his mother back towards the shore with his behavior, his father noticed and also waved his arms at her in a frustrated manner as if to say, “Go back!”

I understood perfectly what was going on in a matter of seconds and was saddened for all concerned. At the same time I recalled something I’d read years ago about the need for both mothers and fathers in a child’s life.

Both parents recognize that the world is fraught with danger. Undertows threaten to knock us over, slam us down, shake us up, and maybe even take our breath away. There are scary animals that bite and attack, some of them disguised as nice people. We could go out too far and lose our way back to the shore.

Both parents see the same thing, but they handle it differently. Moms want to nurture and protect. “Be safe,” they say. “Be careful.” Dads, on the other hand, say, “Yeah, it’s a tough world. Let’s get you prepared for it.”

This is an overgeneralization but there’s some truth in it too.

As I came up directly beside the threesome, the boy was continuing towards his father, trudging as fast as the heavy water currents allowed. Determined, he pressed on. The father was smiling. The mother began taking baby steps towards them both.

I wanted to yell, “Leave him alone,” but that inclination was replaced with a thought of how touching it was to see both parents on either side of the child they loved. Children deserve and need nurturing, security, direction, nudges, and encouragement. At the same time, keeping them too close, too safe, can do more harm than good.

I walked on, turning back only once for a quick glance. The boy was within arm’s length of the father; the mother, although she had walked out a bit farther, was standing still as watched the pair just a little beyond her, waves crashing all around them.

As a parent, have you ever had that conflict between hanging on and letting go? Come on, I know you have. Question is, how did you resolve it?

The Next Day

Friday was Folly Beach day, the day I walked on the second longest pier on the east coast of America. But that was Friday.

On Saturday, we headed to Tybee Island Beach located on the easternmost point in Georgia. I had drooled over some pictures one of my daughters had taken there and vowed to visit the site at some future point. That time arrived Saturday around high noon.

After Folly, I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed. My weekend mission was to see and take some photographs of Folly’s pier for a future beach book of photographs, so anything after that was gravy, in a manner of speaking. Folks, I was absolutely overwhelmed with Tybee Beach. Crossing the Lazaretto Creek Bridge, surrounded by salt marshes on both sides, was a precursor to awe-inspiring vistas beyond.

Before setting foot on the beach, we rode around and around and around trying to figure where and how to park. We could see that there were parking meters everywhere (even at Arby’s where we considered getting a snack), but we had no change to put in them.

“There must be something we don’t know,” I said. “Everyone else has figured this parking thing out, and so can we.”

 “Well, I wish somebody’d tell me,” he said, jerking the car to an empty spot on a side street.

Slamming the door behind him, my husband jumped out to take a look at one of the parking contraptions. It looked like a meter but was actually a device that delivered tickets for two-hour blocks. He slid the debit card through and thankfully saw that we had two full hours to stroll about and make some discoveries.

We finally found a parking spot in the half-mile long parking lot and headed towards the ocean with all of the other day-trippers. It was low tide, and the strand was wider than any beach I’d ever visited. Naturally, I had to experience the strand in a more personal way, so I took off for a walk to the left of the pier. The sand was hard and packed. The water was warm. The beach goers were reading, sleeping, chatting, eating, staring out to sea, and watching their children play in the surf.

These are the same kinds of things they do in Myrtle Beach, I thought. So what’s so different?

I never came up with an answer to that, but I think it had something to do with the way people parked their cars and then walked in what seemed to be swarms to the beach. The beach was so wide that probably twelve to fifteen “layers” of people lounging on chairs and lying on towels were stacked between the ocean and the dunes. And did I mention that several dozen people were actually camped out beneath the pier? It’s that wide and that long!

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After getting my feet wet in the ocean, known as “the pond” to Tybeeites, I walked up the steps to the Walker Parker Pier. Located at the end of Tybrisa Street, the historic pier has picnic tables, a snack bar, music, and restrooms in its pavilion. According to the signs, the pavilion is a popular spot for musical performances, dances, and other events.

We walked the length of the pier, gawking, stopping for photo ops, and interacting with various strollers. We met a young couple celebrating their fifth anniversary who had left their four children behind with grandparents. When I asked the young mother if she missed her children, she giggled and showed me a bagful of souvenirs for them. And then there was the couple from VA who was leaving on a Caribbean cruise the next day. We snapped their picture, and they returned the favor.

It’s Wednesday now, four days since the Tybee Island visit.  No matter how stressful, busy, sad, or upsetting future days might be, I hope I can recall the ocean breezes, the wide sandy beach, the people hiding in the shade beneath the pier, and the roar of “the pond,” and know that somewhere there’s a beach where all is right with the world.

Roses and Thorns

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We sat in the breezeway between the Welcome Center and the gift shop at Brookgreen Gardens, Grandpa and I. While I don’t know for certain that Grandpa is what his grandchildren called him, that was clearly his role that spring afternoon.

I was holding a sleeping three-year-old, and Grandpa was watching the antics of his grandchildren as they scampered about in front of him. It was probably inevitable that we would strike up a conversation.

“Do you live in South Carolina?” I asked.

“No, Washington. But we have a place here, and we try to get together with our children and grandchildren as often as possible.”

After a moment, “Everyone’s so scattered about.”

“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Who would have imagined that little kids sitting around the dinner table would grow up so quickly and move so far away?”

“Yeah, imagine that,” he said, smiling wistfully.

We chatted about our former jobs, how we felt about retirement, our travel plans, and the joys of grandparenting. Like me, he saw his grandchildren in a condensed sort of way rather than a steady, everyday exposure. While sharing our experiences at the coast, I told him that I knew everyone was having a good time because of my oldest grandson’s request the night before.

“Hey, I’ve got a good idea,” he said. “Let’s go around the table and everyone tell what their most fun time was.”

After the sharing began, it soon became evident that choosing just one thing was well nigh impossible, so Braden changed the guidelines to one thing per day. Even that proved challenging because there had been so much seeing, doing, and sharing. They had searched for Easter eggs, flown kites, walked on a jetty over the sea, eaten specialty cupcakes, played with cousins, seen an otter, gone on a pontoon boat ride, and learned about the Gullah culture. And did I mention the Butterfly Exhibit?

Gramps listened politely and then shared his family’s version of sharing experiences, an ongoing tradition that began when his children were small. At day’s end, they sat around the dinner table and played a game called “Roses and Thorns.” Intrigued, I turned and gave him my full attention.

“The rules are simple. Everyone shares one highlight from the day and one “thorn,” something that didn’t go quite right. Like being scared of jelly fish or getting sunburned.”

I thought that was a splendid idea and made a mental note to incorporate the thorns aspect at some future date. As grownups, we all acknowledge that life is not all sunshine and roses, but it’s not something we discuss on vacation. But why not? It’s foolish to think that every single thing is going to turn out perfectly, especially when there are several people involved who have their own agenda. And the weather. Let’s don’t forget that.

Here are my roses from this past week: Easter dinner (lunch) with my extended family, including a six-week-old baby: cupcakes from Cocodots to celebrate several special occasions, including the opportunity to be together; walking a wide stretch of Huntington Beach with my daughters and grandchildren to get to the jetty; flying kites on the beach with my children, their father, and all eight grandchildren; seeing alligators, otters, foxes, and goats at Brookgreen Gardens; watching a feeding frenzy in the aviary at Brookgreen when the caretaker brought tiny fish for them to eat; and being with sweet baby Amelia on her first visit to the seashore.

My thorns? It ended all too soon.

Shining Moments

Nothing big or major here. Just a few observations on life.

I’m at the beach for a few days and have relished every moment of my time here thus far. Despite being overly fatigued, my daughters and grandchildren have added much joy to my life. Here are some thoughts, not too deep but worth considering.

On the way to the coast, I stopped in Conway to visit with an old and dear friend. One of the many things I’ve always loved about her is her ability to hear about a situation and assess it “spot on” without all of the emotional fringe stuff.  Then too there’s the fact that she’s wise, spiritual, philosophical, and practical. If that sounds like an interesting combination, well yes, that’s what makes her so special.

Before we had our conversation, I turned the corner (more like a soft curve) and spotted two women walking down the middle of the tree-lined street, and I recognized them as my friend and her expectant daughter. Immediately I recalled a moment that happened 35 (?) years ago when I saw her cross Main Street from Ninth Avenue cradling this same daughter in her arms. Catherine was a baby, and her mom was taking her to daycare before work. Those were the days—the crazy days of childcare and working that somehow we managed to get through.

Decades later there were two blond, beautiful women ambling down a Conway street, one expecting a baby in less than two weeks. So in a sense, I was walking behind three generations although I couldn’t see the tiny one’s face or form – yet. Plus, they were in Conway. Conway. A city with a lot of history for these two and many, many others. You could almost sense the spirits of their ancestors hovering about.

Early the next morning my daughters and grandchildren were up and about making preparations for a couple of hours on the strand. I was in beach attire, and Colton, the little five-year-old kept playing (best word here) with my upper arms. “Why does your skin shake like this, Grandmama?” he asked as he flicked it back and forth.

“Leave Grandmama’s arms alone,” his mother instructed. “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

Ah, the challenges of getting older. It’s neither fun nor attractive to have flabby arms, but what are my choices? Some people have surgery, but then there are scars to deal with. Plus, there may be more limited use of movement and strength. My intention right now is to keep them covered and focus on the wonderful things my arms have allowed (still allow). For starters, hugging people. I love that. Also driving my car, picking up things, and chalk painting furniture. I started to say “typing,” but I know there are people out there who might remind me of stronger souls than I who have learned to type holding a pencil in their mouths.

That same day I went for a walk on the beach, and four older ladies (75?) stopped me and asked me to take their picture. Happily, I complied. I snapped about four pictures, and hopefully one will be flattering of all four. When I handed the camera back, one of the foursome asked, “Can you even see her face?” She was referring to one of the group who did not want to have her picture made.

“Yes, she’s trying to hide, but she’s there.”

“Hey, it’s a memory,” I said. “Y’all are gonna love looking at it later and remembering this beautiful day when you were together and happy,”

“Yeah, listen to her. She understands,” one of the women said as I turned away to continue my walk.

That little five-year-old is now on the patio with me—no more writing for hours—maybe days. But life is good. I have great friends, arms to embrace this little fellow, and some good beach memories.

Doing my best to “seize the shining moments.” What about you?

Attitude is Contagious

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I really relish the time I get to spend with these three gals, and I’ve just figured out why. They’re all so “outer-directed.” Sure, they care about themselves and their own growth, development, well-being, health, appearance, and finances, but they care about others too. In fact, now that I think about it, all of my friends are that way. That’s why they’re my friends: I need them to “rub off on me.” Attitude, good or bad, is contagious.

Just think about your circle of friends, acquaintances, and family members. Would you rather spend an hour with a down-in-the-mouth, complaining, grumpy person or with one with an upbeat attitude? Had you rather be around someone who has a positive yet realistic attitude nor who feels like the sky is going to fall in tomorrow? Do you prefer the company of someone who feels that things will work out or with someone who just knows that the worst possible of scenarios is going to befall her/him/us.

The women in the picture above, including me, have all had her share of woe, heartbreak, and anxiety. There are actually several other nouns I could add to the list, but why do that? Why add to the negativity??? We all focus on what we have and not what we don’t have. We know enough about relative deprivation to know that we are indeed fortunate, especially when compared to the deprived and downright horrid conditions in which many of the world’s people have to live.

None of us are wealthy, at least not in the ways of the world. We all, however, understand that there’s a relatedness between all life on Earth and that we have an obligation to make life better for others…including ourselves. I added that last phrase so you’ll know that we aren’t completely selfless. Ha ha. That’s a laugh. If we were totally selfless, we’d be at home cooking up a savory meal, scrubbing the bathtub, or volunteering at our local soup kitchens.

We do our share of cooking, scrubbing, and volunteering, but we also take time to feed the inner vessel. In fact, that’s what we were doing that day. We were sightseeing at beautiful Botany Bay, a feast for the eyes and soul that was introduced to me by another “sister” who understands the power of ocean, land, and sky.  Doing it together enhanced our experience and deepened our bonds as sisters.

To the Oceans White with Foam

This chronicle of our Fourth adventures might be getting a bit old so I’ll keep it short today. Besides, I’m here at the beach again, and the ocean and sky are calling my name. My brother and his wife and daughter and I are going parasailing in just a little while, something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time.

Back to the travelogue, from Friday the 5th through Monday the 10th, we savored every moment at the beach. Well, I did anyway. Otis doesn’t love the coast as much as I do, but he managed to stay busy helping an old friend with some renovations to his condo. Still, we both enjoyed dining out (Gulfstream and Salt Water Grill) and getting together with some old friends.

As usual, I did a lot of beach walking and reading and people watching. Just a couple of comments about those activities:

*Beach walking is good for body and soul, and evidently a lot of other people feel that way too because there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of us walking along the strand. Going from the hard packed sand and then into the edge of the lapping waves…well, it’s sublime.
*And the reading part. I’ve been re-reading two of Leon Uris’ books, Mila 18 and QB VII, and I just have to say that anyone who’s moaning and groaning about what a tough life she has in America needs to read those books, especially Mila 18.
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About the people watching, I enjoy watching the children frolic and build sand castles, the people sitting in chairs reading or chatting, and the young people playing ball (or catch or something). Yesterday a little toddler with a huge happy smile gave me a rock. I put it in with my shell collection as a reminder of the morning. One last comment about the people. I have to ask WHY? Why do so many people expose their jiggling tummies and derrieres? It’s painful to see. I know, I know. I don’t have to look, and yet unless I wear a blindfold or keep my eyes shut, there’s no way to avoid those sights.

Oops, time to get my bathing suit on and head to the beach for my adventure. Sure hope the reality meets the anticipation of this. To sum up our week of celebrating America’s birthday,

 “From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.”