I was born in the Midwest and spent most of my childhood in East Tennessee, and yet, all of my life, I have been drawn to the sea.
Perhaps, this is because one of my earliest travel memories is a trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
At the time, we lived in Columbus, Ohio, where my father was working towards a PhD in chemistry. I was five years old the summer that our family of four piled into our 2-Dr, powder blue 1951 Pontiac and headed for exotic parts unknown.
It was July, it was the South, and it was hot.
I only remember my mother saying two things on the second day of our trip, and she repeated them both often. One was “Isn’t it nice that the gas stations give you free iced water in Georgia.” and the other was “Bob, I’m going to be sick.” And so, we learned that come January we would be a family of five.
Then we hit northern Florida and the roadside stands, where you could pull over and drink all the fresh-squeezed orange juice for free that you wished. It was a wonder that we ever made it to Clearwater. You would’ve thought that my mother was addicted.
Mini mountains of seashells lined the two lane roads between the juice stands, and we bought our first souvenirs – a sand dollar and a conch shell.
Finally, we drove into town just before sundown and settled on a concrete block motel that was painted white and sat right on the beach. Snow white sand stretched for miles in both directions, and the sea was deep blue. Palm trees and palmettos blew in the breezes. A huge green parrot held court in the lobby.
I had been told about Heaven each weekend in Sunday School. Now I had arrived there. I was thrilled!
First thing after breakfast the next morning, we headed to the water. Over half a century later, I can still remember the way the earth changed beneath me as I approached and then entered the waves.
The loose sand, I recall as being quite challenging as I slipped and slid through it. It was low tide, and the packed sand was a joy, although I soon discovered that it ended at the edge of the water.
Here I was greeted by a strip of tiny shells that poked and prodded my feet. A smaller strip comprised of smoothed pebbles came next. Beyond these was the sandy bottom that could only be seen by me when I was standing, as the water pulled out.
Both the sand and the water were filled with the living, and I don’t just mean all of the people. Hermit crabs peeked out of holes in the sand, and tiny fish abounded at the water’s edge. Pelicans and sea gulls flew overhead. My sister and I both squealed with delight.
We only had one little problem. Well, actually, we had two. None of us could swim, and my mother was deathly afraid of the water.
Never fear, we were told, our father was with us. If my sister and I would play with our red, white, and blue pails and shovels, Daddy – an all-powerful god descended from Mt. Olympus – would teach himself how to swim. Once he had accomplished this feat, we could both go safely into the water.
And then, in less than an hour, he did it.
As a chemist, he understood the salinity of the water and was sure he would float. His faith in Science secure, he ventured confidently into the Gulf of Mexico, where he squatted down and then stretched backwards at a slant. Once he had achieved a certain comfort level floating on the water, he simply rolled over and started to stroke, having previously studied the proper formations for the Australian crawl, breast stroke, and back stroke in a book.
The oldest son of the motel’s owners – a trained lifeguard – sat on the beach and watched the whole process, completely amazed and not really sure if my father was courageous or crazy.
Nothing could hold us back now. Dad had conquered all problems.
My sister and I donned our inner tubes. Mine had a navy blue bottom and a hydrant yellow top that was sprinkled with navy blue anchors and sailboats. I thought I was quite special.
Memories of this trip remain clear to this day, as do those of other beach vacations – treasured jewels that I return to often in my thoughts.
Annie Acorn Publishing has now uploaded my well-received ebook, The Magic Sand Dollar, onto BarnesandNoble.com. Written for my nieces and nephews at a family reunion in Ocean City, Maryland, The Magic Sand Dollar, is a faith-based story that provides a great read for 4-8 year olds.
Excuse me now, please. I have to run. The beach is calling!