Friday, July 20, 2012

A World of Looking Down

“Don't grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach.” 
~Michelle Held

When my sons were little, we spent our summer vacations at Edisto Beach in South Carolina, an hour's drive from home. Each year our rented house was a far cry from the rentals of today. We could only afford rustic cottages with no A/C, no white carpet and no dishwasher. Furnished with hand-me-down furniture, the wood floors were unpolished and the walls paneled in real cypress (if only they could talk).

After lolling for hours on the beach, a cold-water shower stall located downstairs is where we rinsed all the Johnson's Baby Oil from our sunburned bodies.

A full day on the beach meant that we came in at noon for pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet ice tea. After bolting down lunch, we returned for more sun and more searching for shells and shark's teeth.

I don't remember how old my son Skip was when we decided to hit the beach early each morning in order to get first crack at whatever had washed ashore during the night.

I do remember that the decision was made right after we bumped into Mrs. Rhame, my former algebra teacher who was scouting for shells at low tide. She inquired about my life and family, and then asked Skip what he most liked to look for on the beach.

"Shark's teeth," he exclaimed with no hesitation.

"Me too," she said. "Have you found any?"

"Last year I found five good ones, but this year only two."

She patted his head and laughed. "Well, come to the beach early every morning, keep your head down, and you'll find more."

She glanced at me. "Hunting for shark's teeth means living in a world of looking down."

Oh, how right she was! We searched at daybreak after that (with our heads down) always for petrified shark's teeth, a young boy's wampum.

Every summer, my boy and I shared magical times long before breakfast when the beach was bereft of people. We listened to the sounds of waves slapping softly at our bare feet, occasional squawks from hungry sea gulls as well as the mournful ringing of far-off buoy bells.

When he spotted the black shiny tip of a shell buried in the sand, he would run ahead of me expecting to bring back the prized black petrified tooth. Always, we walked quietly, breathing the salty scent of seawater, the sacred smell to which a low country child learns early on to love.

But little boys don't stay that way for long. They grow up and frame a life for themselves outside of a mother's arms, as they should. My son did everything that was expected of him and that included falling in love. 

When Skip got engaged, I was living in California so my new husband and I flew back to South Carolina in anticipation of the wedding. We rented a house on the Isle of Palms complete with roaches and smelly mattresses, overhead fans and cold-water showers. For two weeks, I allowed my unbridled love of the Carolina coast to feed my soul as it had not been fed since leaving the Southland.

Each day, I tramped back and forth from the beach to the house making mounds of pimento cheese sandwiches and gallons of sweet ice tea. At night, I slept without waking, even with a ton of sand in my bed.

To cap off those idyllic days, my son left his law office in Charleston each evening, drove across the Cooper River Bridge to spend the night with us.

On the eve of his wedding, he suggested that we get up at the crack of dawn and go once more in search of shark's teeth.

We awoke at five a.m. and as we high-stepped our way to the water through sea oats and sand spurs, we were aware that both of our lives were about to change again. He would always be the son I loved to pieces but he would no longer be my little boy. From that day on, another woman would take my place picking san spurs out of his feet.

But on that particular July dawn, strolling hand in hand down the solitary beach, we looked to the future and we did not look down.

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