Part I: unhinged packing
During the week of June 29, stuff started piling up in different places of the house. That was the early warning signal.
On the afternoon of Friday, July 3 just a few minutes after five, my unhinging started with the rooftop carrier. Beach chairs, my suitcase, a traveling booster seat, an inflatable pool, a bag full of required beach items, and a case holding a fly rod were to be stuffed into the carrier.
The installing of the rooftop carrier started quietly. But, by the ten minute mark, I snapped.
Perhaps, it was the heat and humidity of the afternoon. Or maybe weariness from a long day of chores was the reason. Or maybe, it was my alter ego, the beach grump who took over.
Getting that rooftop carrier properly positioned, secured, and loaded correctly was driving me nuts. My use of non-seminarian words ricocheted off the carrier and the items being packed. I was as repulsive as a prickly sand spur on hot beach sand.
My fear with roof top carriers is at some point during the trip, I’ll look into the rearview mirror, and I’ll note all of this debris sailing down the highway. Drivers of vehicles behind me will be swerving to dodge items that suddenly look quite familiar to me.
Eventually, an ounce of sanity returns. The skirmish with the rooftop carrier and its contents are over. Properly positioned, secured, and loaded, that is one less item to deal with on Saturday morning.
Part II: on the road
For Saturday, July 4, the goal is to be on the road by 8 a.m. Surprisingly, we make that goal.
But, as we are leaving Richmond, I have to pull over at the River Road Shopping Center. A couple of straps on the rooftop carrier are being a nuisance. They are slapping harmlessly against the side of the carrier. But, it is the type of continuous tapping that will drive me nuts. So, I stop, and retie the loose straps.
I drive us to the North Carolina Welcome Center. Then the Commander Supreme takes over the drive. I think she could qualify as a NASCAR or Indy driver. She makes up time on the ground just like an airline pilot tells passengers he/she will make up time in the air for being off schedule.
We will drive to Raleigh, stop at the home of our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and load all of her beach junk into any openings in our car. Sweet as she is, Elizabeth never has been and never will be a light packer. Pretty sure, she learned from me.
No blue lights trailed us into Raleigh, but the second round of packing pain was about to begin. Don’t ask me how, but all of Elizabeth’s beach junk found a spot in the car.
Elizabeth took over the drive from Raleigh to Atlantic Beach. The Commander Supreme was her co-pilot. I was assigned a six by six inch square in the only back seat available. Elizabeth has her mother’s heavy foot. Cramped like a stowaway, I closed my eyes, and white knuckled anything I could hold on to for the ride to the beach.
My eyes did squint open enough to admire the flatness of the coastal plain of North Carolina. Rich farmland, and dense, thick forest scamper along beside us. I wonder if some of those forest are the same as they were hundreds of years ago, and I wonder how many generations of families have farmed the same acres of land.
As coastal plain towns disappear in the rearview mirror, soon we are on the outskirts of Morehead City. We merge with the traffic heading toward Atlantic Beach. The bridge carries us over Bogue Sound. It is low tide, and the sandbars of the sound are popular stopping points for boaters and their families.
It is probably a miracle, but we are able to pick up the key for the condo early. We find the place, figure out how to unload via stairs and an elevator, and then we collapse.
But, that collapse was short. We were scheduled to drive over to Beaufort for dinner at the Front Street Grill at Stillwater.
Wearing our masks, we find an open outside table at the restaurant. The staff is complying with all of the COVID-19 safety protocols.
Maybe, we felt a tiny bit safer sitting outside, but to tell you the truth, I really did not want to go on this trip— my reason COVID-19. I don’t trust it. No matter how compliant I am, I don’t trust this virus, and all of its mean characteristics.
I worry while we are here that we might unknowingly be exposed. I could not live with myself if that happened for my wife, our children, or grandchildren.
But, I’m here, and I will try not to be too grumpy.
Part III: invaders approaching
Saturday night was pretty quiet. The Commander Supreme and Elizabeth took the short walk to the beach, and from there, they could see multiple firework displays.
On this Sunday morning, July 5, I promised myself to go for a run. I decided to go what in my mind is south along West Fort Macon Road. The town of Atlantic Beach has done a nice job of providing sidewalks and boardwalks along this busy road.
Eventually, my sidewalk runs out, and taking in the sights, I missed my crosswalk cue to move to the other side. I jog facing the oncoming traffic, I eventually find a cutover and get to the boardwalk path on the sound side.
I keep going, but not that much further. Just short of the entrance of the Hampton Inn, I decide to turn around and head back. This time, I don’t miss the crosswalk, and I work my way back to the Dunescape Villas where we are staying.
For cooling down, I cross over the main road to the parking lot across the road. This is the overflow lot for guest parking.
Our oldest daughter, Lauren, and her two children are driving down from the Raleigh area later this morning. So, I wanted to check out the lot for her just in case all the guest parking spaces were taken near the condos.
While there, I note a singular swing and a picnic table. This is all under the shade provided by a pretty live oak tree. I also find a nice boardwalk that starts out under a canopy of live oaks. The boardwalk leads out to the sound where there is ample dock space for boaters, but also a good spot for fishing and crabbing.
On the walk back down the boardwalk, I recall a car I had seen on my run. The car was parked in a hotel lot. On one of the side window panels of this large SUV were these handprinted words: Jesus Lives along with a cross drawn in beside it.
I’ll be honest with you. In this crazy world of ours, I find myself wondering if the words—Jesus Lives— are true.
If he lives, why isn’t Jesus down here straightening us out?
Maybe Jesus thinks we are too far gone.
Somedays, I agree—we are too far gone.
But, then I remember, if I’m any kind of a human being, Jesus should be living through me.
And if Jesus is supposed to be living through me —what am I doing wrong?
Part IV: Irreplaceable
From the time they arrived about mid-morning on July 5 until they departed on Wednesday morning, July 8, everything we did focused on our two grandchildren, Caroline and Hudson.
Can you say the word spoil? That was all that Elizabeth and the Commander Supreme did to Caroline and Hudson during their time with us.
It was a treat to have them and their Mom here. We’ve seen more of Lauren, her husband, Doug, and the grandkids since their move from Chicago last summer. Having started a new job, Doug wasn’t able to join us.
The grands wasted no time getting ready for the beach. Lathering up, chairs, towels, toys, and numerous other necessary items were all hauled down to the beach.
Wave jumping, hole digging, forming sand towers, hunting for shells, and wading in tidal pools became part of the daily routine.
Now, I rechecked the calendar to confirm that today was Sunday, July 5, but right at 9 that evening, the Fourth of July returned.
Not sure who the sponsors were, but for a good 15 minutes fireworks were erupting again. We just knew Caroline and Hudson would hear all of those booms, but remarkably they slept.
From time to time, Caroline and Hudson are early risers. A bad habit probably inherited from me. On Tuesday morning, they both were up just as the sun was rising. So, Lauren and I quickly organized a short walk for them over to the sound side.
We crossed the quiet road, moved across the dry parking lot toward the start of the boardwalk path. As we worked our way along the boardwalk, we noted tiny crabs scurrying across the weathered gray timbers.
At some point, Caroline picked up on the low tide aroma of the salt marsh. She didn’t like it, but maybe someday she’ll appreciate those life sustaining ecosystems in all that muck.
Out on the boat dock, the new morning was still. The water’s surface was a flat mirror reflecting patchy clouds to the east with a bright sun coyly peeking behind them.
As we headed back to the condo, we stopped so Caroline could take a ride on the singular swing that was hanging from the sturdy limb of a live oak tree.
Live oaks are such beautiful trees in these coastal towns. I wonder why developers are so drawn to putting the non-native palm trees in so many places. Why not plant more majestic live oaks? They offer so much more than an out of place palm tree.
Our routine at the beach continued that morning, and the afternoon brought a treat—ice cream.
We took a short ride to the AB Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe. For a grumpy old guy, there is nothing like a small cup of coconut ice cream on a hot and humid summer afternoon. And I’m assuming for grandchildren, not only do they like the ice cream, but they also appreciate whoever invented sprinkles.
Wednesday morning arrived too quick. Before we knew it, we were helping Lauren repack her car for the drive back to Cary. I was going to miss my two pals and the paces they put me through down on the beach.
Now the condo would be different.
The kid chatter, and the patter of bare summer feet on vinyl planking was gone.
Our entertainment had departed.
And they were irreplaceable.