Papa Dewey, the patriarch of the family, relished the beach as much as the youngest in the family. Although he walked with a slight limp due to a work accident, we would find him on the beach playing softball with the rest of us to work off a typical huge meal. Cartwheels, writing our names in the sand, and of course, sandcastles, were daily rituals that continue to connect us to earlier, happy times.
Since the 1960s, my family, varying in number from ten to 25 or so, has gathered at the beach. We rented huge houses in Myrtle, and everyone gathered for dinner and ate wherever we could find a spot. Each week included at least one trip to Calabash to buy shrimp fresh from the day’s catch. The assembly line in the kitchen to clean the shrimp became a type of party because we knew what goodness would follow. Lucille’s cocktail sauce, with its heavy dose of horseradish, would clean your sinuses for sure. Three generations of family knew how to have fun in a simple way – beach, water, sand, good food, and laughter.
When Papa Dewey passed, he left behind enough to purchase a spot in Seaside Station of Sunset Beach. We all gathered to christen the mobile home on a hot weekend in August. My cousin Debbie came up with an appropriate name for her, Abuela y Abuelo, and someone bought a bottle of cheap champagne and christened her with our horrible but hilarious pronunciation of the Spanish words.
Since that time, we continue to visit the beach as often as possible. Some combination of the family is coming or leaving. Certainly, our home is much smaller than the ones we rented over the years, but we squeeze in as many as possible. It helps that other family members purchased a home next door, so we still have a way to stretch out and be together. Even if only a few of us are there, conversations usually find a way to intertwine stories of previous times at the beach.
“Remember the time that Felicia was stung by a jellyfish?”
“Remember the time that a Palmetto bug seemed to chase Daddy down the hallway?”
Most of our stories also include various versions of the same memory, which I’m sure is a common occurrence in families. As our family continues to grow and adds another generation, I wish that this idyllic place will have the same joy for them as it does for me. Early morning walks to Bird Island and Kindred Spirit always jump-start another day. When I sit on the wide, pristine beach and look out over the water, somehow the responsibilities and problems of life become small in comparison. Breathing in the salt air and watching the gulls trolling for food tell me that everything will be okay. Carpe Diem is the motto of my days visiting Sunset Beach.
Some of the traditions from the early days continue now, just on a smaller scale. Games on the beach are a must. We do visit Calabash, but we now buy our fresh shrimp from Bill’s, just a short walk down the street. If Lucille isn’t around for her famous cocktail sauce, I try to replicate it with as much horseradish as we can tolerate. Laughter is the language of the evenings.
Most people have at least one place away from home that feels like home. For me, it’s the beach. The sand, the salt, and the air all say to me, this is where I belong.