When my first grandson was just a toddler, we often heard him saying “I had fun at the beach.” It seemed the words were associated with things that brought him pleasure, not even things directly associated with our recent vacation there. Just developing language and learning to communicate, we believed it was his way of showing his feelings of happiness and satisfaction with a particular activity. This only lasted for a time and some might consider it something of a “phase” and easily forgotten as the months and years passed and his understanding and language were fully developed.
Even today, I can see in my mind's eye this my first grandchild taking steps in the wet sand, curls blowing in the wind as he looked out at the vast expanse of ocean and seemed to be taking in the wonder of it all. During this most recent visit to the beach for vacation, he'd helped me scoop up many seashells and deposited them in a paper cup. Broken or perfect in shape, they all held a fascination for him as he padded along beside me. Writing with a stick in the sand, feeling the pull of the tide and napping by his mom on her beach chair must have been an other worldly, heavenly kind of experience for such a little one. For anyone who has experienced the feeling of a fresh ocean breeze and sand between their toes, there is nothing that compares.
That Christmas, with my grandson's words still on my mind, I created a gift for him, a reminder of our summer vacation. It would become my way of helping him remember our family's time together at the coast. Along with the shells I'd collected some beach sand in preparation for making my sea and sand token of remembrance. Using a glass bottle, complete with cork stopper, I fashioned a mini- seascape with several ounces of sand and some of the shells we'd collected together on our trip. As I corked the bottle, it popped into my mind. “I had fun at the beach!” The words of my little grandson, so frequent right after our trip became less frequent as the months passed. My grandmother's heart was not ready to forget the significance of those words. They represented pleasure and great wonder and all that childhood should encompass. I wanted them to be etched in my memory and his for a long time.
I found a white paint pen at the same craft store, perfect for writing on glass. On one side of the bottle I printed the words, “I had fun at the beach,” followed by the date. Amid all the other gifts on Christmas Day, it may not have been the most popular gift my toddler grandson opened but it did find its way to a spot in his very own bedroom where it stood as a reminder of his first words of “gratitude” and the beauty of our time together on vacation.
My second grandchild, a granddaughter, came filled with all the same intrigue as the first. We returned to the same beach apartment where my family and I have been visiting for as long as I can remember. Pitter-patting on the same sandy expanse of God's beautiful handiwork, there would be plenty of room for her own personal exploration as mommy and daddy introduced her to the wider world of waves creeping up and slinking back into the big sea. Seated in the same personal wading pool her brother had once used, I snapped photos as she squinted into the sun and soaked up the salt air. A time or two I caught a memory of my sister and I jumping in the waves with our skirted bathing suits as my grangirl toddled down to the water with her ruffle tail swimwear. There was more shell collecting and thoughts of Christmas and another glass encapsulated memory to be made. As we drove towards home, I heard the words in my mind again, “I had fun at the beach.”
We just returned from our latest adventure on the same hundred yards of seashore. Under a canopy, our latest addition to our beach paraphernalia, our family of eight, sought shelter from a sudden thunder storm,huddling close together as we reminded one another this was a first. Not the first rainstorm my daughter reminded me, just a first for the eight of us. There is now a third grandchild, power packed with all the curiosity and wonder of the other two. His eyes were so intent as streams of salt water poured from one of his cousin's sand buckets. I made numerous pictures as he sprinkled sand on the other's hair while sitting in his own personal hole in the sandy landscape where at least five generations of our family have built sandcastles and romped in and out of the frothy waves. “Let's get some seashells,” I said to him, as my mind drifted to thoughts of Christmas which will creep around the next corner and surprise us like the wave that just tickled his little toes moments before. Red cup in hand, I protect the small treasures he adds to the collection , as my son joins in the search. As nature takes its course, the little one toddles away and onto a new adventure while my thoughts begin to flow gently into the past like the movement of ocean swimmers drifting imperceptibly down the beach with the current.
For a time I am lost in thought. I remember the movement of my daughter, my firstborn, as I lay stretched out on this same beach more than thirty years ago. And then she's crawling in her bright red swimsuit with dark hair and crouching with her finger poking holes in the sand as she watches them fill with water again. And then I see the two of them, she and her brother, he wearing his bright yellow swim tube and she, her long ponytail. We're spraying our feet free of the same stretch of sand with the same hose and its just the three of us. And the shells keep washing up on the same shore as we add the other five family members to our memory bank of adventures here by the sea. As the sudden rush of water enters the canopy threatening to pull our bags of treats and toys back into the ocean, I am jostled back to the present.
Snap! In the lens, I see my son in law standing in the ocean, nephew's head resting on his shoulder. Soon, my daughter in law will come and wrap this little one in a damp beach towel and head for the shower and an afternoon nap. Where have all the years gone? How gently and like the ebb and flow of the tides, in and out, the years have passed.
The sand toys are rinsed,bags packed and chairs are folded. We join all the other sun weary on the trek across the sun scorched sand to our beach apartment and home away from home. It's our last day and the familiar sadness fills each individual heart as we say goodbye to the familiarity of our own parcel of God's wondrous seascape.
Christmas Day will come before we've seen the last grain of sand disappear from the trunk of our cars. Shopping bags with Christmas gifts will take the place of sand pails and buckets. Calendar pages will turn and dates will be crossed off as we return to busy schedules.
Christmas Day will find us sitting around the Christmas tree and for a time we will forget the winter winds as the littlest one unwraps his personal jewels from the ocean. We might imagine and remember for a moment the gentle beach breeze catching that curly tendril of hair on the back of his sweet neck. As we watch him wrap his tiny hands around the glass filled with timeless gifts God tossed on the shore for his personal pleasure, you might hear the words of another small boy almost a decade ago. Someone in the family is almost certain to utter the words, filled with meaning only for those of us in the room...those who have walked a particular plat of God's seashore together...
”I had fun at the beach!”