“Each year, we rent a house at the edge of the sea and drive there in the first of the summer—with the dog and cat, the children, and the cook—arriving at a strange place a little before dark. The journey to the sea has its ceremonious excitements, it has gone on for so many years now, and there is the sense that we are, as in our dreams we have always known ourselves to be, migrants and wanderers—travelers, at least, with a traveler’s acuteness of feeling.” –from ““The Seaside Houses”
― John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, January 1, 2003:
The weather for New Year’s Day at Crystal Beach was absolutely perfect. The sun came out warm and the wind dropped down to a dead calm. The low tide fell even lower and uncovered a long stretch of Bolivar Peninsula sand near our beach house that was scattered with interesting, unbroken seashells. As we picked them up, we discovered that many contained hermit crabs. Nicholas has been bugging us to buy him a hermit crab for a pet and I told Lee (Nick was still inside reading – he was on the home stretch of Return of the King and wanted to finish) that we’d pick out six crabs and take them back with us.
After a bit, Nicholas rode up on his bicycle (with the cry of, “I have news from Gondor!” – he’s terribly obsessed) and was tickled pink with the crabs. He’s found a plastic container and built a little habitat for them. I don’t know anything about these things – I hope they survive for a while. When we get back to Dallas I’ll do a web search and find out how to care for them.
Later, I went for a long walk, to the north this time, passing miles and miles of huge, beautiful beach houses. It was dark when I made it back to our humble rental unit and Lee was concerned that I had been gone so long.
“I was getting worried, Dad.”
“What, Lee, did you think I’d get lost?”
“I don’t know… I was just worried.”
Lee has been collecting driftwood sticks this whole trip and had accumulated a little stack of them. He explained that he only wanted to keep three of them (his walking stick, one he pretends is a sword, and one he has whittled into an arrow of sorts) but wanted to start a fire on the beach with the rest of them. Every night somebody has a fire going out on the beach, usually a too-big one, but Lee wanted to give it a try.
The problem is, we didn’t have any matches or a lighter. I lit a leftover fireworks punk on the stove and took that out on the beach where we had prepared a campfire with the sticks and some crumpled newspaper. I couldn’t get a flame, though, only smoldering paper.
I thought for a bit, then dug out Candy’s citronella candle she bought to discourage bugs. I lit a strip of newspaper on the range top (after removing the battery from the smoke detector) and used that to light the candle. Then, using my jacket as a windscreen, I carefully walked backwards out the door, down the stairs, and out onto the beach without letting the candle go out. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the thing lit.
It was a nice little campfire on the beach. The wind whipped the fire and the driftwood sticks gave a good flame with strong, hot coals. Nick (he finished The Return of the King this afternoon and is very proud), Lee, and I sat around the fire for a bit, enjoying the stars, the cool sand, and the sound of the nighttime surf.
When it was time to go in Lee and I spread out the coals and buried them with damp sand. It was a really nice last evening on the beach. Tomorrow, we pack up and head back to the city.
And today’s flash fiction: