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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.


Team Family July 13, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Family.
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When the kids are squabbling, I sometimes like to declare, “We’re all on the same team here!” Campy, I know, but the idea is sound: a family should work together, look out for everyone, and seek a common goal. Victory!

Well, I can’t get carried away, but it is nice when it actually works out that way. Like the other night. Or morning, actually. 4:13 am, precisely, since I can’t forget the blurry red numerals that so brazenly insulted my sleep. Rebekah, the youngest, was up with a tummy ache. A bad one, in fact, that had her crying and writhing and pitiful. It was the night before the day before Amy’s birthday, and therefore within the range of her annual multi-day birthday festival event, so I decided to try to take sick kid duty. I managed well, I think, until Rebekah finally decided she was going to throw up. (Sorry. These unpleasant details are necessary to make my point. Trust me.) I could have handled that, too, except that our children are hopelessly incapable of throwing up in the toilet. I even had this conversation with Rebekah:

“Do you feel like you’re going to throw up?”

(Weeping) “Yes.”

“Okay, let me help you to the potty.”

(Weeping) “But I don’t have to go!!”

It never once occurred to her that if she throws up in the potty, we don’t have to clean it up later! So, there I am, kid half-reclining on the floor, half laying on me, me holding the throw-up bucket, trying to manage. That’s when our kids’ other insidious throw-up problem surfaced: they’re all girls, and they all have this beautiful long girly hair that, during the throw-up process, rests gently and dependably in the throw-up bucket, with the throw-up. Ugh. That’s when I succumbed to my weakness and made the reluctant call for reinforcements. “Amy?”

Birthday girl sprung to action, doing that amazing one-handed pony-tail bobby pin thing that only females can do. Hair was properly relocated, kid was eventually moved to the aforementioned potty, and one crisis in a long night passed. Teamwork.

I eventually moved downstairs with Rebekah, who was feeling no better. Fortunately for me this was just abdominal pain, and no more toileting was needed. I comforted her as best I could and looked up the hours to the urgent care place. By about 7 am, her two older sisters wandered down the stairs. They looked at me, then at Bek, then I met their quizzical faces with an explanation. Without prompting, they sprung into action as best they knew how. They pulled out the craft supplies and quickly fashioned lovely homemade get-well cards. The purple paper and drawings and glue did little to comfort a moaning Rebekah at the time, but they sure made me smile. Teamwork.

The urgent care place finally opened, and we got Rebekah all straightened out. While we were there I fielded calls from the family checking up on the youngest member, and I was again gratified by the way the team was working together, placing a common goal about personal interests.

I’ve sometimes pondered that every wrongdoing, every sin, can be traced back to one thing: selfishness. When we place our own desires and ambitions above those of others, or of God, we’re headed for trouble. That’s why family teamwork is such a beautiful thing. It means each of us deemphasizes ourselves so we can emphasize everyone else. And it almost always means less trouble.

We need trials to see how we perform under pressure, and today, I’m proud of how my family performed through this little trial. I know another one will come soon enough, so I’ll keep up my campy coach-speak, just so we’re ready.