GEORGETOWN, S.C. – Driving north from Charleston, listening to Clapton
singing a Robert Johnson song about a woman in Vicksburg, it crossed my
mind that it might be fun to stop at the Kicking Horse Saloon and have
a beer. Not so much because I wanted a beer as to share the mood with
But the Kicking Horse wasn’t open. The only car in the lot was for
sale, and truth is I wouldn’t have stopped anyway. It was the first
time I’d been out of Atlanta in months. The drive had been easy,
Clapton was in fine form – a better bluesman than a rocker, I think –
and I was almost to the beach.
In less than an hour I was greeted by three of my four brothers and their
families; my older daughter, her husband and their 14-month-old son;
and my aunt, cousin and her son.
When our parents were alive, Christmas in Connecticut was a command
performance. But with families of our own, we’ve shifted the reunions
to summer and met at beaches from Delaware to the Outer Banks and now,
for the second year, in South Carolina.
We could easily find something more convenient – one brother lives in
Colorado, one in Ohio and another in Connecticut; my daughter lives in
Charlotte; my aunt and cousins in Detroit; and I in Atlanta – and we
tried it once.
We rented a house on a lake in Michigan to coincide with a wedding, but
the lake, fed by chilly springs, was nippy even in the heat of summer.
Lake Michigan was even colder.
The ocean, on the other hand, has usually been welcoming and bathwater
warm. The waves are big enough for body surfing, and powerful enough to
yank your pockets inside out, power-flush your sinuses and shove you
halfway to the North Carolina line. But they are not life-threatening.
It rained Saturday morning at 6, announced by a howling wind that
streaked past the windows, slammed a door somewhere and woke everyone
in the house. It rained for 20 minutes and hurried up the coast.
Otherwise, we’ve been lucky. To the north the sky over Myrtle Beach 35
miles away has looked catastsrophic. To the west, armies of glowering
clouds exchange muffled volleys of thunder that sound like artillery exchanges.
But until today, we’ve had full days at the beach and cocktails on the
deck under blue skies.
As I write, however, I see a fine light rain falling
on a boulevard landscaped with crepe myrtles, palmettos, small pines
and boxwoods. It’s been like this all day.
We are here for the sun, of course, and the powerful immediacy of
what Jimmy Buffett called Mother Ocean – which, among others things, cured
my grandson, McRae, of a rash on his legs.
But it is the sound that I keep noticing. It is the steady, insistent push of the wind,
which has been blowing out of the southeast since we got here, and the
constant churning of the ocean spilling over and over, upon itself and upon the shore.
The natural order of things goes something like this: we breakfast,
we go to the beach where we put on sunscreen and read for a time. But that
sound, that steady rustling of sea and wind, as constant and faithful
as a beating heart, washes over you, penetrating gently, and in
time you lower the book to your chest, and doze.
You awaken, play in the waves, towel off, read…doze again.
Brother Dave was amazed to see his 15-year-old son Charles – 6-foot-4
and growing so fast I wondered if he sleeps under a Grow-Light – deep asleep on the couch in the family room despite the activity around him. At home he never naps.
My grandson napped under a towel on his father’s chest while his
father napped in a beach chair 60 feet from the ocean’s edge. Nephew Eric slept so long this morning that my brother, Jeff, went to check on him. He was face down, wrapped
in a quilt, cross-wise on the bed, feet hanging over the side.
Night before last, brother Phil went to bed at 9. His explanation — “I
didn’t get my nap today” — triggered several moments of silence and
deep reflection among the rest of us, as if he’d been stricken with a mysterious ailment. Maybe tomorrow would be better….
As I prepare to post this, I see that Phil’s daughter, Jennifer, 16, is stretched out on the couch in the family room…napping.
So there it is: others gather for golf or tennis, for
horseshoes or sailing. The Christensens gather to nap.
There are, of course, layers of meaning in family dynamics, and no doubt someone
could mine ours for its rich deposits. But I’m on vacation, and to be honest, I’m too tired. I need a nap.
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