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Gifts from the Sea, Tracks in the Sand

May 14, 2015

Pier at Sunset Beach, NC


Maybe it was because I grew up so far from an ocean
that the first time I ever saw the sea,
I was hooked.
Ever since, I have felt that same visceral thrill almost every time we have driven to the sea;
crossing over that last bridge or peninsula to an island or beach where the sea gulls swoop–
opening the car window you get a rush of salty sea breeze
and if you are riding with one of my siblings,
someone is sure to squeal “eeeeeeeee!” with unbridled glee.


Sam + James First Beach 2015


Maybe it was this deep love for the sea that made me especially happy to introduce my two grandsons to its thrills and wonders in early May.


Sam’s first good look at the beach. He’s ready, crab shirt and all!


First sandcastle.


The water was too cold for Sam, but slinging sand to his bucket was fun.


James, Brian and Michelle upon James’ first look at beach.


What’s not to love about a wide open space to walk?


Oooh, this water is cold, Mommy.

It had been six years since I’d been to a beach. Oh happy day.



One of my favorite pictures this trip, though, was not captured by me or anyone else in our family, nor will I ever see it, short of an online miracle. Here’s the story.


My mother had access to a wonderful wheelchair which we dubbed the “beachmobile,” provided (free) by the beach town of Sunset Island. It had tire tubes for wheels, the better to roll over the sand. (Check all that PVC piping for a frame!) But Mom, at almost 91, is normally someone who maintains a strict exercise regimen walking at least five times a week—outside if the weather is fit and inside in her apartment complex if it isn’t. So she wasn’t about to go to the beach and not actually walk on it.

Still, and especially after a fall at my sister’s house, she wanted to be cautious, so she asked that my sister and I take her hand on each side.

So we walked that way down the beach: two sagging sisters in their 60s, holding the hands of their frail and thinnest-she’s-ever-been 115-pound mother. Mom reminisced about how she usually walked the beach alone; even when Dad was able to get out on a beach, how he much preferred to swim, just fall asleep in the sand, or jump waves with the kids. She talked about how she envied other women walking with their husbands, which always looked so romantic. Thus her normal beach walks were times of solitary reflection which casts its own kind of redemptive spell for a harried mother and homemaker.

As we walked, we became aware of another beach walker some 20 feet behind us, and both my sister and I noticed her snapping a photo of our threesome with her phone.

The woman caught up to us and said “That is so precious. You should be on a postcard.” We laughed and she wanted to know how old Mom was. “That will be me in a few years,” she noted.

I wouldn’t have minded having the photo but the moment was soon gone. My sister, after the woman went on her way added, “Yeah, we probably looked like one of those funny postcards showing the backsides of old wrinkly ladies at the beach.”

Some “photos” are best only in our memories.


Our beach party included a pair of precious one-year-olds, two kids newly in double digits, some 20- and 30-something young adults, a late-30s dad, and us older ones, all making tracks and memories in the sand. In my previous beach post, I said I did not expect to go in the ocean much over my ankles, it being the first couple days of May in North Carolina, but the sun was warm. Finally I sucked up my breath and rode a few waves and got my hair wet without going under.

But our favorite stroll was an evening when the full moon cast brilliant moonshine over the waves. We had a great time photographing it, and photographing each other doing so.


I was so reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s beautiful book, Gift from the Sea:

For a full day and two nights I have been alone. I lay on the beach under the stars at night alone. I made my breakfast alone. Alone I watched the gulls at the end of the pier, dip and wheel and dive for the scraps I threw them. … And it seemed to me, separated from my own species, that I was nearer to others: the willet … the sand piper … the pelicans … the old gull. I felt a kind of impersonal kinship with them and a joy in that kinship. Beauty of earth and sea and air meant more to me. I was in harmony with it, melted into the universe, lost in it, as one is lost in a canticle of praise, swelling from an unknown cathedral. “Praise ye the Lord, all ye fishes of the sea—all ye birds of the air—all ye children—Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalm 148: 7, paraphrased)

(Gift from the Sea, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, 1975, Vintage Books/Random House, p. 43)




What are the “photos” which linger only in your mind?


Are you a beach lover? Why or why not?


 For more from my newspaper column, head over to Third Way website and find Another Way.


From → Faith, Family Life, Nature

  1. This post arrived just as I am preparing to join my cousin at her beach house in Delaware. I’m afraid we won’t have that enormous full moon, but I am grateful for the reminder of that passage gifts from the sea. Our entire nuclear family will also be taking a week together at the beach in August.

    Coming from a farm, my first real beach experience was at Ocean City, driving alone with my cousin and friends, renting a room together, and looking for fun and suntans. I’m amazed our parents allowed us to do it. I’m sure we will reminisce about those days this weekend.

    Lovely photos! I’ll let you know if I recognize your rear view on any funny cards. 🙂

    • I hope you have a great getaway too! My first experience on a beach came either at Ocean City or Atlantic City, when some Lancaster friends, family of Sally Ressler, my oldest sister’s freshman roommate at Goshen, ’64 ish,–took us to the “shore” I think they called it. Is that what you would have called it? And I was introduced to the glare and horrific sunburn from a day, (not well protected in those days) at the shore. I see from Marian’s comment below that either Ocean City or Atlantic would have been common trips from Lancaster. Have fun reminiscing!

  2. When I saw the title I expected a reference to the Lindbergh book, and there it was. The quote you pulled out is perfect for this post, Melodie.

    We live just 12 miles from the beach in Florida now, but my previous experiences were similar to Shirley’s – family trips from Lancaster county to Ocean City or Atlantic City where my mother bounced in the waves in her black satin suit and my dad got a blistering sunburn in his itchy maroon wool. I even have an earlier photo of Mother and Daddy before they were parents riding a bicycle built for two.

    On our recent sisters’ road trip we combed the beach at Sullivan’s Island, SC looking for shells. One of us spotted “Happy Mother’s Day’ script sculpted in the sand as our special souvenir.

    • Margaret Foth, our speaker on the Your Time radio program in the late 70s early 80s introduced me to that book by Lindbergh, and so much more. I had to wonder, when quoting her, if I should tell younger readers who Anne Morrow Lindbergh was. 🙂

      I love to find messages in the sand. I wonder how long my scrawling lasted. It was still there the next day but I bet it didn’t survive storm Ana. Anticipating more of your road trip, too! And I’ll try not to drone on and on about the beach (but have one more post coming, slightly different angle/side trip.)

  3. Yep. “The Shore.” Always thought that sounded magical. So far away. So unlike “the farm.” 🙂

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