I am at Caspersen Beach, watching three of my five children play with my sister’s three children. My sister is there, and so, of course, is my mother. It seems she is always there with me. We consider it our own personal beach.
On this particular sunny day, we sit and talk about parenting. She tells me to handle my children’s self-centered demands with an almost-flippant, non-emotional authority–as she did. I’m sure she is right–as usual–and I make a mental note of her advice. My sister is off socializing with a friend from another city who miraculously appeared at this out-of-our-town beach, and so it is my mother and I who are talking. As usual.
She and I have been here so many times–through so many times.
We discovered this particular beach more than 15 years before, the summer preceding my freshman year of college, which was also the summer before my mother re-embarked on her own college experience. I was the youngest of five children, and with my entrance into the adult world, my mother felt herself free to pursue her own interests. And interestingly enough, I found we were taking some of the same courses–at different schools, in different states.
But that summer before I left home, we moved to a small city on an Island–Venice, Florida. Far enough from the convenience of our established lives in Sarasota, we ventured out to discover. Caspersen Beach was part of that. That summer I had the luxury of exploring the island via my bicycle and enjoying the solitude and time to think. My mother and I found that beach to be a special haven–almost desolate, covered with sand dunes and sea grasses, afternoon sand that burned our feet, boardwalks with benches perfect for conversation. And quite unattended. A gem waiting to be discovered. At the end of a quiet stretch of road, Caspersen Beach seemed set aside just for us.
It was here that we became friends, my mother and I. Here we talked. While were college students, we philosophized about faith, life, academics. We found a little doughnut shop–and a mutual love of chocolate long johns, apple fritters, and 7-11 coffee–and retreated to our private beach, on a bench overlooking the Gulf.
Rarely did we indulge in what most people came looking for–sand, surf, sun, sport. We came for each other. We came when it was cloudy, cold, and windy, as well as the sunny and beautiful times. Usually mornings. We sat together and talked, sometimes silent, sometimes delighting in a dolphin leaping within view, always reveling in God’s beauty around us.
In my latter years of college, I fell in love. And we came to our beach and talked about him. I remember coming just before I married–and sendoff of sorts, a finale to an important chapter in our lives.
When my husband died suddenly two years later, my mother and I returned to the beach. Skipping an evening church service, we arrived and sat in the dark, me grieving, saying things like “if only Bill were here to talk this through, I could handle it” and other such prose that my mother seemed to understand. I felt that I needed to share some of the intimacies of my life with Bill, the silly and the serious moments, so that they wouldn’t go to the grave with my first love. And my mother listened, dried my tears, and made her heart a treasure box for my words.
Later, I married a widower with four children, and our times at the beach dwindled. Times for deep, philosophical talk were replaced by the reality of joyful parenting. But our beach was still important to us. “Let’s make a trip to our beach the next time you’re here,” my mother would say, rather wistfully. I would agree, equally longing.
We finally made time for it again, the last time I was home. My husband remained at our home three hours away, my oldest two sons were with their other grandma, and my younger three children (Steve and I had added one to the mix) were playing with my sister’s brood. We stopped at the doughnut shop–still open–and got our traditional treats plus a dozen or so more for our company. We got our “7-11” coffee from the same store, which now bore a different name.
Our beach looked much the same–but it had been discovered. Not mother-daughter pairs enjoying a friendship, but many of all ages enjoying traditional beach activities. We did ourselves. We gave up the bench to be near the children swimming and playing, and we had plenty of interruptions, including a 2-year-old who constantly wanted his mommy nearby.
But it was still our beach–full of memories and experiences to come. And a friendship that grows with the passing of time.
I wrote this September 8, 1998, but never published it. My 2-year-old is now 16; my mother is 80; and while we have visited our beach only rarely through the years since then, it is not because of lack of desire. Now I see my children entering the adult world and, as my mother did, anticipate the freedom to pursue my own interests; I hope to return.