These days, except for the triple-digit temperatures, it doesn’t feel like July. COVID19 has stolen the summer tradition of family vacations for many people. I have been looking back at my childhood and our yearly trips to the Florida beach.
In 1964 I held Kelly’s left hand in my right and Gayle’s right in my left. In our new two-piece bathing suits we faced the bright white Florida shore with our backs to the Gulf of Mexico. Gayle and I stood in thigh-high water while Kelly jumped up and down so that the water went from her waist to her thighs. Our game was simple. Keep your head straight ahead and do not turn around to see the approaching surf. Listen for the sounds of the breaking waves and be ready to jump when the salt water slapped your backside. Also, do not break the holding-hands chain! I tightened my grip on Kelly’s hand as the four-year-old continued to bounce up and down like a human Tigger. “Stay still,” I said. “You need to concentrate and listen.” Kelly started to jump higher and shake her skinny hips.
“She loves you! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Kelly.
Gayle echoed, “Yeah,Yeah, Yeah!”
I pulled and squeezed Kelly’s hand as our middle sister said, “We gotta be ready, y’all!” Kelly continued singing, but in a hesitant whisper of a voice. I held my breath to focus on the sounds behind us eleven seconds before the rushing roar of the waves announced water higher than all three of us. The wave pounded over our heads and all we knew was water. We screamed in unison as the frothy water pushed us forward and roared its dominance. We all lost our balance and our feet left the sand. Gayle and I stayed connected, but Kelly got pulled away and sent rolling in the surf. She got a mouthful of salt water and the waves sent her face into the sand. I rushed to Kelly’s rescue, dragging my other sister with me. I reached for my youngest sister’s arm, but my fingers squeezed a long ponytail instead. I yanked the dark chunk of hair over my head and pulled her to her feet. Her bikini top was askew and covered only one nipple. Kelly was too shocked to cry and reached for my waist to steady herself. I released her hair and Gayle reached over to help keep Kelly standing. With both Kelly’s arms around my waist and a wiggling Gayle on the other side, I did my best to walk my sisters to the shore. Soon we all three sat on dry sand.
“I ’bout drowneded,” sputtered Kelly as Gayle said, “You ok now.” I sat in the middle and placed an arm around each sister. Together we looked at the watery wildness we had escaped. After thirty seconds of concentration on the power of nature and the suddenness of disaster, Kelly stood to straighten her bathing suit. “Let’s build a sand castle,” she said as she walked to the beach chair Mom was sitting in. (Momma had been too preoccupied with rubbing baby oil on her legs to witness her daughters’ water misadventure). Gayle followed Kelly, but I stayed there staring at the waves. Just a couple of minutes before I had feared for my little sister’s life! I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, in and out. A helicopter moved overhead and pulled a banner that proclaimed the freshness of “Dougie’s Shrimp Baskets.”
I stared at the pounding water on the shore four feet in front of me. The steady rush of water as it spread over the hot sand and the wave’s retreat into the gulf hypnotized me. How could the water have such power? It was loose and liquid and allowed kids to float atop it. It called out to folks to join in its cool beauty, its wild excitement, its thrilling danger. I closed my eyes and listened to rhythmic sounds that soothed me until I decided to help my sisters with sand castle creations.