We were heading to the beach, and it felt like going to see an old friend. There is a goodness to revisiting a place you’ve been before, because the familiarity adds a layer of calm and knowing anticipation.
We knew the landscape as it unfolded, and we saw it in a way that felt reassuring. “Oh yes!” we chorused enthusiastically. “There is that town, or that object, or that look the sky has about it when you cross from Alabama into Florida and it feels like a place that you know.”
A familiar sensation settles around your already lightened shoulders, but you take a deep breath in and out anyway just to see that they are not still carrying any leftover load from the places you’ve left in the rearview mirror.
We moved into our little beach house in a state park community of rentals that had the alternately strange and welcoming effect of giving us the impression that maybe it was 1952 and maybe we were a nuclear family and perhaps this was our new home. The winding streets and cookie cutter little track houses in pastel hues felt exactly the way Florida ought to feel to snow birds and vacationers and residents alike.
Each day, we merrily adopted our temporary routine, loading up all our accessories and detritus to meander down the path to the beach on our bikes, waving at our neighbors and feeling we knew them because we had passed them here just yesterday and because we knew what kind of accoutrements they took with them to the beach.
Obediently and relaxedly we came and went each day… down to the beach and back for lunch or dinner with our sunscreen and our chairs and all the other necessary implements. We would set out midmorning and amble back exhausted midafternoon with too much exposure to the sun and the tiredness of people and things and sand and surf.
One day, though, we broke the mold. We lazed about while the rest of our community followed the plan – down and back, from breakfast to just before dinner, with floating toys and umbrellas and chairs and buckets and bags… just in case.
As all the people scurried back to their shelters before nightfall, we cautiously stuck our heads out into the evening air like deer at dusk looking around with a mix of curiosity and caution.
We rode our bikes against the flow of beach-version rush hour traffic, meandering down to the beach without much more than the thoughts in our heads and with great abandon as our sun-stroked neighbors bickered and hustled back to their pink, yellow and minty-green homes.
Normally, the people arrived each day and poured off the boardwalk to turn right and head obediently down the beach, splaying out to claim their patch of sand at semi-respectable distances from one another.
That evening, we scrunched our toes into the warm evening sand and walked belligerently up the beach in the opposite direction. Without a soul in sight or a beach accessory to burden us, we walked happily along. These days, society can leave us feeling oppressed and lacking in sufficient moments of abandon.
The smallest child followed the dark, flowing line where the debris washed up on the beach by the waves leaves an array of treasures and trash.
As she grabbed each and every crushed and mauled remnant of a seashell, I glanced at the expanse of beachline ahead and told her not to pick them all up. “Not the broken pieces, Ainsley – look for the most beautiful shells. You only want to bring home the perfect ones.”
Slightly surprised but undeterred, she barely glanced at me as she firmly ignored me and continued onward.
“But they’re all beautiful, Mommy.”
Yes, child. You’re right.