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Sand Castle Building

June 28, 2016

IMG_3926We 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.

IMG_3941From 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!

IMG_3909We 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.IMG_3923

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).IMG_3899

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.IMG_3933

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.IMG_3947

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.IMG_3953

What do you bring home from a beach vacation, besides sand?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2016 11:48 am

    I miss not going to the beach this year but am hoping we can go down for a quick weekend at some point. We usually bring back buckets of shells. In J’s case, it’s shell fragments. She goes for large pieces of whatever while I usually look for perfect intact tiny specimens.

    • June 28, 2016 11:53 am

      We have brought home shells in the past, but didn’t this year. The ones I collected went on top of the towers of the “protective” castle in front of Chichen Itza.
      The ones from past trips cover the soil on my potted plants, so the cats don’t dig in it. (That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes dig out the shells and play with them!)

  2. June 28, 2016 11:59 am

    This sounds like a fantastic vacation!

  3. PAJ permalink
    June 28, 2016 1:03 pm

    I brought home a LOT of jambalaya. (You guys need to eat more.) But it was a perfect meal Sunday night after 2 long days of driving. Of course, we brought home lovely memories. Beach Week 2018 seems a long, long way away.

    • June 28, 2016 2:51 pm

      I love my friends. Who else would tell me and mine that we need to eat more?

  4. June 28, 2016 5:33 pm

    I loved reading this, Jeanne, and loved the poem and Anne Tyler quote you shared – so perfect for those sweet, fleeting, memory-making days at the beach with family, We went to Folly in May, and now my husband is talking about going back in October for a few days. He’s right – our son is only little once! We need to gather our rosebuds while we may. Thanks for sharing your adventures and reflections.

    • June 28, 2016 5:41 pm

      I’ll bet Folly Beach is beautiful in October.
      I highly recommend taking your child to the same place every couple of years, and developing vacation traditions.

  5. June 28, 2016 8:51 pm

    I’ll echo what others have said–it sounds like the perfect vacation for you all.

    As for me, being near the shore is very peaceful to me. I have no idea if I’d feel that way were I to live near the shore. But visiting sure does it for me.

    • June 28, 2016 10:02 pm

      Oh yes, me too. I’d like to find out if it would feel as peaceful if I lived there!

  6. June 29, 2016 8:27 am

    What a wonderful tradition, I loved reading about this! And that castle is impressive, wow. My family has something similar around the Fourth of July, a big weekend with long-time friends at our cabin in Wisconsin. This year a number of the “second generation” won’t be there, and I’m disappointed not to be seeing them.

    • June 29, 2016 8:41 am

      The beauty of the every-other-summer tradition is that it gives us time to see family and other friends on the off year–the “kids” do have their own college friends now!

  7. June 29, 2016 7:25 pm

    What a great vacation! I cannot describe how impressed I am with your Chichen Itza sandcastle. We were just at the beach ourselves for a family vacation (in Maine, in our case), and we were reminiscing about how truly terrible everyone in our family has always been at making sand castles. Yours is beautiful.

    • June 29, 2016 8:13 pm

      Different beaches do have different kinds of sand. The sand on this particular barrier island is fine and lends itself to carving–the first thing we ever built there, before kids, was a miniature stonehenge, built with blocks we carved out and stacked up.
      Also, because we like making sand castles, we have acquired many different sorts of sculpting and building tools that help us make the details look really good.

      • July 1, 2016 11:01 am

        Cheap and easy sand-carving tools: a plastic fork with all but one tine removed, and a straw for blowing away extraneous grains. They’re a good started kit for deciding whether you want to bother accumulating more tools.

        (Next step: old paint scrapers of varying widths, if you have them lying about.)

        • July 1, 2016 3:45 pm

          Various paint scrapers are in the sand castle kits of both households (Ben and Carol’s, and ours)!

  8. June 30, 2016 2:19 pm

    Look at all your happy faces! So glad you had a nice time. An impressive sandcastle! My beach souvenirs are usually shells or rocks I find on the beach and sometimes a sunburn.

    • June 30, 2016 6:40 pm

      Only one of us got a sunburn–she took off her tennis shoes to sit on the beach and talk a while, and forgot to sunscreen the tops of her feet…ouch!

  9. July 1, 2016 10:59 am

    We are, again, crashing my parents’ vacation week in South Carolina. My elder son already is beginning to know the rhythms of that vacation. There is a sweetness to a beach vacation routine, where you know the grocery stores and know where the grills are and where to hunt for shells to adorn your sand castle. I sometimes regret not taking the boys to explore more places new to all of us, but I won’t give up this extended family vacation time. It is precious.

    I’m glad you so deeply appreciate your own great beach traditions. And I hope to remember to share this poem with my family, come August. Thanks for introducing me to it.

    • July 1, 2016 3:47 pm

      I’m glad you like the poem!
      Exploring new places may be better when your kids are older, especially since they’re getting to see your parents now. When we started our beach tradition, my parents and Ben’s mother were a part of it.

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