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The North Carolina Keys September 13, 2013

Posted by markgeil in Family.
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Emerald Isle sign

Our annual Geil family vacation was almost over. It had been a grand week at the beach. We had celebrated several birthdays, which called for regular visits to the Sweet Spot for ice cream. We had a windy late night walk on the pier, and on the way there we had occasion to introduce my youngest nieces to what they called “trespassing on people’s properties”, when you have to be very very quiet. We created a barely-floating flotilla, ambling down the intracoastal waterway when ocean riptides had closed the beach.

The beach is my favorite place. Each of my senses retains a tangible memory of that sacred place. My nose delights in that first moment when I roll down the car windows for an influx of salty air. My toes are happiest barefoot in the sand. My ears are tuned to the relentless frequency of noisy ocean waves. I listen to Jimmy Buffett songs just to make me miss the beach more when I’m back inland.

Holding a place in such esteem makes leaving it that much more difficult, and so the final clean-up and drive away day is usually more bitter than sweet. When we were little kids, we made a point of saying, “Bye, Beach House” every time we drove away toward home. But my visits were more frequent then, and each goodbye was sweetened by the promise of imminent return. Now, “Bye, Beach House” means a sad “See you next year.”

This year was worse, though. It’s bad enough to pack up from vacation and go home. It’s worse when you’ve lost your keys.

How cruel an irony it is to not want to leave a place and to spend your last moments there frantically searching for the very means to leave. And oh, did we search! I checked the usual places a dozen times. I retraced my steps from that morning, and the night before. I thought about when I had last driven. We were spread among two houses, so I went from one to the other, over and over. An hour passed. My frustration mounted.

I let a discouraged growl boil over as I drove someone else’s car, one more time, the couple of blocks from our little family house to the rental. But when I pulled in the driveway, the boiling stopped. I was deflated, released, by what I saw there beside the house.

My father and my brother were on their knees, surrounded by garbage. They were searching our trash, one bag at a time, for my keys, just in case they had accidentally been thrown away. I got out of the car and walked toward them, humbled and loved by their unsolicited act of service. I thanked them, and they both looked up with the same expression that conveyed, with no words, “No biggie. Just doing what we thought might help.”

As my eyes beheld those dear faces, my ears heard that sweet sound of ocean waves, crashing just beyond the dunes behind me. My nose caught a saline breeze. And I realized that I do not love the beach because of the sand, or the water, or the air. I love the beach because of my family.

Because my father, on his knees there before me in the filth, and my mother had decided decades ago to build a little beach house, one wall at a time, because they somehow knew their boys would love it there.

Because my brothers spent so many summers with me building sand castles and digging for clams and getting knocked over by waves. Because we grew up there, from chasing lizards to chasing girls. Because those boys did love it there, and without even trying, we loved each other there.

The beach is my favorite place because my family made it that way. While that same family, now multiplied in number, rallied around me in the search for the missing keys, I found them. They had accidentally been packed in a suitcase. Or maybe they had hidden there, because they wanted to stay a little longer.

Next time I walk on the concrete and wish it was sand, I’ll get the memory right. I used to equate images of the beach with erstwhile happiness, which is fine. Now I know that images of the beach mean a treasure chest of memories and new moments with my family, which means love.