Sand Castle Building
We just came back from our bi-annual trip to the beach in South Carolina with a group of college friends, and it was as wonderful as ever, even though a couple of the friends’ kids couldn’t come this time, and our second generation (we can’t really call them kids anymore, or even teenagers) missed them–as we all did, really, because it’s fun to watch your friends’ children grow up.
This time, though, was a reunion with not only the friends, but with some of the adult children. Eleanor flew in from Tucson; she and Walker hadn’t seen each other since Christmas. We’ve been going to this same island every other year since before the kids were born, and I used to always put them on the lookout for the first palm (or palmetto) trees as we approached the shore, saying they are the signs of a “good place.” Eleanor said she had that same old reaction when she got to Tucson and saw palm trees everywhere, so seeing them on the approach to the barrier islands isn’t quite the thrill it used to be. But the smell of the salty air and the plough mud was the same.
From years of experience, I had a schedule for the week. I like to make my reservations (for a group of 15) ahead of time so that when I arrive, I can maximize my lolling around time. Some days had only a dinner restaurant reservation. On Monday, three of us went parasailing. On Tuesday, 10 of us went kayaking. On Thursday, 11 of us went to the market downtown in Charleston. Our only whole group events were meeting on the beach in the morning, and having a welcome party at our beach house (the Shriggsleys, as we are called there—an amalgam of last names) and a farewell dinner at our friends’ rental house (the Janclarkquists). They made an elaborate spread of appetizers, followed by two kinds of jambalaya and a spicy vegetarian dish, and then a berry trifle, banana pudding, and ice cream. It’s great to have friends who like to cook!
We didn’t decide on the day for the big sand castle until we got there, because we like to schedule its construction so that the tide can take it before we go in for lunch. That day turned out to be Friday, and the “castle” we had decided to make was Chichen Itza. Ron and our friend Ben are usually in charge of construction decisions for the main structure, and the rest of us fetch water, dig ditches, and construct elaborate walls and drainage moats to “protect” the main castle from the tide for a precious extra seven minutes.
Our other sand castle tradition, dating from when Eleanor was almost two years old, is to put a toy alligator named “Bridget” and a toy crab named “Mary” in the moat around the castle. We thought Bridget and Mary looked particularly fine this year, at the corner of the Mexican temple.
Our youngest child is now our tallest, so rather than protecting him when we went out in the waves, we followed him past the breakers until we were almost out of our own depths. From the shore, the heads of those out in the waves were small dots, and we were careful to follow our own old rule to either take a partner out or make sure you have a spotter on the shore.
It was very much like this second part of a longer poem by Elizabeth Spires, called “Mansion Beach” (you can read the rest of the poem by clicking the link):
“At noon, in the too bright light, watchful,
looking too hard, we saw the scene turn dark
and lost the children for a moment, waves
crashing around them. Shadow blended with shadow,
the sun inside a cloud, and then the children
were restored to us, our worst fears a hallucination.
All afternoon their castles, poor and proud,
rose and fell. Great civilizations were built,
came to an end, the children mighty lords, their castles
only as small as we are to the stars and starry structures.
The day was infinite for them, time stretching
to the farthest horizon, the sun their overlord.
But how to reconcile these summer days washing away
with our need to commemorate, to hold onto?
They knew. And so they sang a song tuneless and true,
admitting no fixed point, no absolute, words
overheard and blurred by great winds blowing us in,
a rhyme or round for a time such as we live in:
The world is made, knocked down, and made again!”
All the “kids” soon remembered what happens when they ask me what time it is while out at the beach (“it’s summertime,” I will reply with a smile. I have made this same reply their whole lives).
I sat on the shore, watching the waves roll in, and thought about what Pearl Tull (from Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant) thinks about how heaven could be a beach she’d once visited when “Beck was handsome and Pearl felt graceful and the children were still very small; they had round, excited, joyous faces and chubby little bodies….Wouldn’t it be nice, she said, if heaven were Wrightsville Beach? If, after dying, they’d open their eyes and find themselves back on that warm, sunny sand, everyone young and happy again, those long-ago waves rolling in to shore?” And then I thought about what her son Cody thinks about it: “Did she suppose that he wanted to spend eternity as a child?”
The “kids” and my friend Valerie and I went crabbing at low tide on our last afternoon. We go to a park with a fishing pier, and we lower two nets baited with chicken parts. This time we caught two blue crabs (plus a hermit crab who went back in) and we brought them back to the beach house, cooked and ate them.
On our way to Charlotte, where we left Eleanor at the airport, we stopped on John’s Island to see Angel Oak, one of the oldest trees in the U.S.A. Ron and I had seen it more than twenty years ago, but we’d never taken our children to see it until this year.
I brought home three hermit crabs (the land kind you can buy at beach stores) to add to the two I’ve had at home for a couple of years. They are rattling around inside the big summer cage I put them in to introduce them to each other and sit outside in the shade during the day. Will they become friends? Will they fight? Have I brought home a couple of crab thugs to make the lives of my crab pets unbearable? It’s so hard to tell. I’m near to deciding that it’s unethical to own hermit crabs, and yet I continue to bring them home because they fascinate me.
What do you bring home from a beach vacation, besides sand?