So this past week, we went to the Outer Banks with my husband’s family—a tradition since 1989. This is where our vacations were spent when my children were growing up and a where a lot of memories live. These are the loved ones about whom my son, Charles, wrote in his rap song, Family Matters.
As I walked down the beach that first morning at low tide, I remembered Charles skim boarding. Getting a running start, he would gracefully slide that board into the shallow water and effortlessly glide across the wet sand like a hover craft. He was so lightweight he would glide for ages.
I got totally lost in watching my Charles memory movie when that familiar ache of grief drifted in and took residence in my heart and the tears started to roll.
I wanted to see that gorgeous curly hair blow in the sea breeze again, see his skinny self jumping into the ocean on a boogie board, hear him laughing with his cousins. As quickly as the movie in my mind appeared it evaporated and in its place was an empty beach.
Watching from our cottage porch later in the week, I see kids from other cottages ghost crabbing on the beach which triggered another pleasant memory. I hear their excitement and watch their flashlights bob and flicker while they squeal with delight. Ghost crabbing involves nets and buckets in addition to flashlights. And of course lots of cousins, brothers and sisters.
In the dark, hundreds of sand crabs come out at night and scurry across the sand. They sense your step and move out of the way. If you had no light, you’d never know they were there.
But turn on the flashlight and you can see these nocturnal creatures all over the place at night and you wonder how on earth you did not step on one. The game is to shine the light right in the crab’s face to make them freeze, and then catch them with the net. Or in Charles’ case, with the net or by hand.
The kids would fill the buckets with crabs and when the bucket was bustling with crabs clanking their claws on the side of the plastic desperate to get out, they’d let them go.
Charles would always challenge one of the crabs to a duel with a broken sea oat and he’d “sword fight” the crab as it puffed as big as it could, waving his large pincer menacingly to try and scare an opponent twenty five times his size. Once the crab pinched the sea oat, Charles would tire of the game, wanting to catch up with his brother and cousins and he’d take off down the beach and leave the crab alone to retreat back into one of the many holes in the soft sand.
Charles lived for this activity with family and would beg his grandpa starting at first nightfall and then lead the charge out onto the sand. Like trick or treating, he never grew too old for it, participating with his younger cousins even as a teen.
Not all beach vacations had pleasant memories. But the good ones outweigh the bad and part of the reason I never fathomed he’d kill himself. He just seemed to get so much out of life.