We were making good time.
The interstate was behind us.
Now, the car hugged two-lane state roads.
Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was at the wheel. She has the same heavy foot gene as her mother, my beloved wife, the Commander Supreme.
From the single back seat with all kinds of deemed necessary vacation junk crammed around me, I hold on tight.
I take in the landscape of the North Carolina coastal plain as we barrel toward Surf City located on Topsail Island.
Following orders, I had scrawled with my award winning chicken scratch the capital letters NC in my calendar notebook for July 3-10.
It is always nice to get away. But, I will confess that I struggle with the packing of the car and the rooftop carrier.
Without question, my Methodist upbringing is severely compromised as I shove in the car and the carrier stuff that by the end of the week we will never use.
The Commander Supreme had planned, plotted, negotiated, and reserved a house for the two of us, our three children, their spouses, a significant friend, and grandchildren to enjoy.
The further east we push, the closer we come to the Surf City Bridge.
To access the bridge, drivers must negotiate a traffic circle, a rotary. This requires alertness, patience, and obeying one of the most abused road signs in America—the yield sign.
The bridge spans, high over the intracoastal waterway and a patchwork of inlets, sandbars, and isolated spits of green come into view. These fragments of green remind me of pieces of a puzzle—dislocated from either the mainland or the barrier island itself.
They are fragile, held together by marsh grasses, wind scrubbed trees, and the muck of the marshland. Their fragility is grounded in a restless pulse from season to season never knowing when tides, winds, and storms will conspire to steal more of their turf.
On the island side, as we exit the bridge, another traffic circle and properly placed yield signs await Elizabeth’s navigation.
As soon as we are on the main island road, my white knuckled grip on the door handle relaxes, the tension in my shoulders slumps, and my eyes start scanning both sides of the flat road.
With few exceptions, the road is lined with beach houses. This place is dense with houses. No opportunity to build has been lost. A mixture of new, old, and lots of in between is in place.
We can’t check in the house until 4. So, we are headed to the Beach Shop and Grill for a late lunch.
Now, I’m going to pause and fast forward.
We had a good week.
What makes a good week at the beach?
Lots of ingredients in a good week at the beach, but the obvious key is the weather.
We only lost one day thanks to Tropical Storm Elsa. Luckily, Elsa brought a bit of rain and wind to Topsail, and the storm moved quickly up the coast.
But, the ocean was all churned up while Elsa sailed by. Wind driven white caps prevailed. Waves and undertow pounded the beach.
The wind blew sand covering beach access stairwells. But, when the wind finally subsided, some surfaces of sand were rippled and ridged like a snow bank blown against the foundation of a house.
And speaking of wind, I am thankful on those sunny days at the beach when the wind blew the shibumi.
The shibumi is my new best friend. Its ingenious design provides shade for grumpy old geezers like me who don’t want to help my dermatologist purchase another beach house. If you are like me—sun shy, then you should get to know shibumi.
The grandkids were good. Nuclear meltdowns were few, and if one unraveled, Aunt Kathryn’s diplomacy saved the day.
Plus, the grandkids individually and collectively made their Nana laugh. That’s a good thing when Nana laughs. I will always cherish the beautiful innocence of the fleeting humor found in grandchildren.
Maybe at some point, I will write about my three runs, my fishing, and our Friday afternoon boat ride with our son-in-law’s sister, Pam, and her family. That ride showed us Topsail from an entirely different angle—its backside from the intracoastal and along the sound.
Our Saturday morning departure brings the same repacking dread for me. Except this time, we have less, and by the grace of God, we are not using the rooftop carrier. That will make God happy. My profanity is significantly reduced.
Of course, it is a postcard perfect morning as we leave Katelyn Drive.
Soon, we are backed up in traffic approaching the rotary to cross the Surf City Bridge.
The Commander Supreme is behind the wheel. I expect we might set a new land speed record in getting back to Richmond. But, then I remember this is summer, it is Saturday, lots of traffic.
Following the directional prompts on her phone, we travel the backroads of the coastal plain.
I see forests thick with trees and undergrowth.
Then in a few more miles, another vast expanse of acreage will appear. But, this time, the trees are gone.
Occasionally, we whirl by large parcels of land whose signage indicates they are used by the Marine Corps for training.
Towns are few. Intersections might have a gas station.
Farming still exist—fields of corn and soybeans dominate the landscape at certain points. There must be something special about coastal plain soil.
As we zoom toward the interstate, I peer into yards and the homes on those plots.
In some instances, I wonder how people live in these weather beaten, unkept trailers and wood framed houses. These homes appears so fragile that I imagine the wash from the fluttering wings of a gnat could topple them.
My brain talks to me.
My brain says, you know, Bill, I imagine the people who live in these weary looking homes never get away.
A vacation is never on their radar. They are simply trying to survive another day, another challenge.
My brain continues to drift.
These people trying to survive, trying to breathe for another day, must be curious about the license plates they see. Out of staters whizzing by heading toward their get aways in beach mansions.
Maybe, these survivors dream when they see license plates from Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio. But, that’s probably the extent of it— a dream.
The next time you are able to get away, take more than a moment to appreciate your blessings. Don’t take those blessings for granted. For we all know—in a blink life can change.
And also take a moment to be mindful of the people in those frail homes along your route—some will never get away.