An Ocean of Blessing
Yesterday I started reading A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. A friend suggested it, saying that her writing reminded this friend of my own. Only a few chapters into as of yet, there is much on the pages that resonates with me spiritually and philosophically but today the sun is out after reading some of this book mostly what I am feeling is a longing to be near the coast. Nothing in all the world feels as good and perhaps as close to home for me as warm sand between my toes and the sea's gentle breath on my cheeks.
Growing up my family spent at least two weeks at the coast every summer in a small town called Manzanita a few miles south of Cannon Beach. My parents' friends, the Walters, owned a small rusty red house almost across the street from the beach. Every summer we would return there, usually in August when the sun in the city was just starting to reach the point of sweltering miser-ability for us all. To this day I can remember the sisal rugs in the little red house, the plexi-glass shower door, the small winding staircase with a water heater underneath, and how the paint was more faded each summer and always peeling ever so gently from the edges of the shingles. Inside I can picture in my mind the big round tufted chair from the 1920s covered in a horribly itchy moss green fabric. I would spend ours on it in my swimsuit with an itchy butt paging through one of the books that lived at the house. There was one large black and white photography book with pictures of naked and bare chested women from the same era as that old green chair and we, as in whatever other children happened to have joined us at the beach that year, would sneak peeks secretly when no adults were nearby. The dining room was to the left of the living room when you walked in the front door and there in the cupboard in the corner were stacks of old board games. On colder or rainy days and at night we would sit for hours playing Sorry and Monopoly. At night, if it was too cold or the weather conditions were not ideal for a campfire, we would keep a fire burning in the wood stove which lived directly across the room from the green chair and next to the kitchen door. Here we would perch ourselves on the brick surrounding the stove and toast marshmallows and make s'mores. It was always a little bit cold in that little red house, especially at night and we drank a ton of hot cocoa with mini marshmallows when we were at the beach. These were a big treat for my brother and I and the special treats to be had at the beach didn't end there. We got to have all those mini boxes of sugar cereal that you pour the milk right in to whereas at home it was always oatmeal with raisins (yuck), or generic Cherrios. In addition, everyday at the coast we were given a quarter or two and would stroll downtown to the Big Apple Market and purchase Laffy Taffy and Jolly Ranchers for two cents each. I recall that sour apple was my favorite and my least favorite banana, a taste preference which has stayed with me until this day.
It seems in my memory that my brother and I were given complete freedom to roam around town as we pleased. We could come to and fro to the house and to the beach and back several times each day. And although we each got a new pair of saltwater sandals each summer, we always skpped around town barefoot. Where there were not sidewalks, which was most places, there were gravel roads. And no matter how much you walked on them, it always hurt tremendously. I can still feel the sensation of hundreds of small jagged pebbles poking into my heels and the balls of my feet as I jetted around quickly, endlessly willing myself to be weightless in their sharp pain. Funny that all the willpower in the world never worked and yet and still sandals always just felt much too constraining.
During the day we spent most hours, as one should when at the coast, on the sand and in the water. And sometimes, in the sand too, buried. When I think back to how deep we would go into the ocean I can hardly believe it primarily because it is so dangerous and secondly, because this is Oregon and its so damn cold! These days during even the warmest beach weather its all I can do to wade in the icy water for a few hundred feet before I have to escape again for warmer and dryer land. We would hunt for rogue jellyfish and buy cheap plastic kites which always seemed to break more than they ever flew; surely operator error. My mom would usually accompany us down to the beach but here she became more sedative than in most other moments of her life whereas we would go crazy as soon as our feet touched the sand kind of like my dog does today, electrified by the pure freedom and joy of it all. My mom on the other hand, and other adults who might also be joining us for a few days or a week, seemed to morph into big boring slugs. They would always bring a blanket and a book and would find a warm spot and just park it there for hours on end. At the time it looked like the most boring thing in the world to me but at the ripe old age of thirty, a day or even a few hours spent laying on a beach in the sun with a book and nothing but the sound of the sea and the birds to keep me company sounds almost exactly like heaven. Every few hours my mom would rise from the green and blue plaid blanket we keep in the trunk of our car the rest of the year and take off on a long walk, disappearing into the coastal horizon. About an hour or so later she would return and find herself a spot back on the blanket and either take another nap or read. She was always so quiet in this place.
On some afternoons we would go for long walks throughout town and on one such occasion we happened upon an alley full of wild blackberry bushes. On all the summers that followed we returned to this spot and strolled back to the house merrily with pink stained fingertips to make homemade blackberry ice cream in our old-fashioned, hand-crank ice cream maker.
One summer my mom took myself and four friends in our old split-pea green Volkswagen bus for my birthday. We only made it as far as Seaside before the clunker broke down and my dad and grandpa had to drive out and shuffle us a few dozen miles south to the house in Manzanita and then return a few days later to pick us back up and bring us back to the city. One summer I had a broken arm and had to come back into the city for my arm to be examined by the doctor and then we returned all the way back to the coast that afternoon.
Another summer my mom espied a rusty old claw foot bathtub in the old shed out back of the beach house. My mom's friend Ginger, the owner of the house, sold it to my mom for a few hundred dollars I think. I always thought that was kind of stingy of her charging us for a bathtub that had very obviously been there much longer than she had been in possession of the house and because it was very clear that she had no intention of every doing anything with it. In any event, by this point in time my brother and I were on the cusp of our teenage years and we had traded in our old Volkswagen bus for a spiffy new Nissan minivan that had captains chairs for the middle row of seats and what I thought was the coolest thing ever, a tiny fridge big enough to old a six pack of soda between the two front seats. That summer we took all the seats out of the van and in the bathtub went. Somewhere there's a photo of my mom, her face red and sun-kissed and her hair windblown into a soft crown of grey around her face, laying in that bathtub in the back of the minivan. She had the bathtub refinished and painted the feet gold and the outside black. On top of the black she painted a sea of soft pink roses. I was happy to see a few years ago when the house I grew up in was for sale by the people my parents had sold it to when I was thirteen, that despite other changes and remodeling they had done, my mom's flowered bathtub remained.
The last time I stayed at this house or in Manzanita was the summer before what was I think, my senior year of high school. My parents had been divorced that spring and my mom took my friend Lizzy and I for several days to stay in the little red house and escape the city and our newly unfamiliar lives. At the time Lizzy and I both had our permits, had been learning to drive for several months, and were both anxiously awaiting our soon approaching drivers' tests. One morning my mom handed me the keys to her car and some money and told us to take ourselves out to breakfast. In that single moment, probably for the first time since I had become a teenager, my mom became cool again. I still have a picture of myself somewhere sitting proudly in the driver's seat getting ready to drive without an adult in the car for the first time, sheer exhilaration radiating from my smile. The temptation was, of course, too good to resist and Lizzy and I spent several dozen minutes cruising around town before we headed to and quickly inhaled our breakfast.
I hadn't though about much about any or all of this until most of these words poured onto the page today. I guess memories of my life run deeper than I often realized. And I suppose reading the perspective that being at the coast brought Anne Morrow Lindbergh's and the grace she felt around her during her own time at the there, brought my past to the surface. I think in this moment, that these many weeks spent by the ocean with my family and sometimes my friends over the years just might be some of the very happiest moments of my life thus far. Its funny that I can still recall today with perfect clarity the way things in that place looked and felt and smelled and tasted and sounded and yet, it feels a world away. So very much besides the aging of my mind and body have happened in the years between the last time I slept in that little rusty red house when I was sixteen. When I was a teenager Jim Walter, who owned the place with his wife, was in a car accident with his son Trevor, several years my junior. Trevor survived, Jim did not. As fate would have it, about a decade later my mom's life would end the same way that Jim's did. I often wonder about Jim's children and how his sudden death affected them, if they are able to commune with and feel him with them when they have returned to their family's little red beach house over the years. I will probably never be able to go to the coast and not feel a twinge of sadness that my life will never be as simple and carefree an full of love as it was all those many year ago despite the peace and serenity that seem to inevitably wash over me when I am there. Yet and still today I am feeling so thankful to have such truly blessed memories even if they exist in a place that can never ben revisited in real life. To think that for a time I had it so damn good, that so many people wish they could be so lucky.
In the years between then and now wars have stared and ended, millions of babies have been born, perhaps billions, global warming has sped up its cycle and in my own life, in my own miniscule world there have been deaths and divorces and graduations and there have been new kinds of love, crippling self-doubt and astounding spiritual revelations that have come as a result of all of these things. Returning to that time and place of innocence is not now nor will it ever be an option. But so long as I am living, I will be ever searching to be enlightened by grace moments of clarity about the purpose of my life like those that seem to so easily settle in when my feet are buried in the sand and I witness the world breathing in and out with every giant ebb and flow of the ocean's tide. I will always be trying to live as much of my life in the state of momentary grace and wholeness that my mom seemed to be in whenever she laid there in silence on the sand letting the sun's warmth settle into her every pore.
I am greedy for the world and for peace and for solitude as well as for the company and companionship of others souls. I am greedy for enlightenment of any kind and for perspective like one can find in the quiet company of their own spirit at the coast. May we all strive to be so at peace with our lives despite and because of their brokenness and their beauty. May we be able to revisit happy places from our past in our minds during moments when a sneaker waves comes up and rolls over us unexpectedly, knocking us momentarily off of our feet until we can sure again our footing in the sand and see that whatever this wave is, it too shall pass. And lastly, may we always be looking for opportunities to create new traditions and find evermore places and people and things around us to be thankful for. In memory of my of my dear old mom who would have turned 58 next week and the place she loved to be more than any other in the world, Namaste.