Not many people remember the first time they saw the ocean’s waves, but I do. The first time my feet skipped across salt water, I was 14 years old.
Not to worry. I did not spend 14 years sitting around and whining, “Everybody gets to go to the beach, but me.”
In my mind, I had not missed out on anything. I spent summers with my family at Boy Scout camp. For vacation, we visited our grandparents. And I loved it—all of it.
I considered it lucky to have a dad who worked on the professional side of scouting. What child wouldn’t enjoy living in paradise—a lake, canoes, rifle and archery ranges, and hiking trails at her beck and call?
As for my grandparents, I would have chosen to go to their house over just about anything. My heart still quickens at the thought of my brothers and me diving under the car’s seat to find our shoes as we neared their front door.
My first visit to the coast came by way of a wedding. I had traveled with my Aunt Genevieve and Uncle John to Delaware to serve as a bridesmaid for their daughter, my favorite cousin Julianne.
As soon as my older cousin John W. learned that I had never walked barefoot along the seashore, he fixed all of his energy on making that happen. He and his wife Barb kidnapped me from wedding preparations and drove me to Rehoboth Beach.
The first time a girl from the mountains sees the depth and width of the ocean fill every corner of what looks like forever, she blinks—a lot. “Where,” she asks herself, “is the hill that rises up and hides the view of the horizon?”
When I took in the massive expanse of sand and water underneath my favorite shade of blue, I felt like a shadow inside a live painting, a never-ending mural.
I learned what it meant to have a day when you couldn’t buy a cloud. Nothing interrupted the sun’s synergy with the sky.
I learned the meaning of the ocean’s roar. I heard the waves crash in and out before I saw them.
Taking me to the beach was a big sacrifice on my elder cousin’s part. Though John W. loved the coast, his fair complexion did not.
He spent much of the day in long sleeves with beach towels shrouding his legs. Somehow, he still wound up the color of Sebastian (Ariel’s “Under the Sea” crab-friend). But he said it was worth watching me squish my toes in the sand and ride waves for the first time.
It was a sacrifice for which I was ever grateful.
The lone small negative during that memorable day was the trace of guilt that floated oh so gently in my mind. As I splashed in foamy waves and squeezed wet sand into drippy castles, I wanted my parents and brothers to be there with me.
That’s why my second trip to the shore was nearly as amazing as the first. My second beach trip helped me understand John W.’s determination to get me to the ocean. Not only did he want me to see it. He wanted to see me see it.
Two years passed before I found myself—with my family—on the coast of South Carolina. Watching the expressions of my mother and brothers as they wriggled their toes in warm sand for the first time made the long drive in that crowded Plymouth Arrow worth every minute.
So, no, not seeing the ocean until I was 14 was not a disappointment. But experiencing the mixture of sand, sun, and waves that first time was like finding a new country to explore. It put a newfound love on my radar.