One summer within six weeks, I had a hysterectomy, finished my MBA, and started a new, demanding job with an hour commute to Savannah. That’s why I was more than ready to climb into the Jeep with my husband Allen and our eight-year-old daughter Meredith for a long beach weekend in St. Simon’s Island in the Golden Isles of Georgia.
No sooner had we backed out of the driveway, Meredith complained from the backseat, “I’m hot!” She shoved against the bulging canvas bags, my briefcase, and beach paraphernalia packed beside her.
“It’ll cool off in a minute,” Allen insisted, adjusting the air conditioner.
“But I’m hot NOW.” Meredith rummaged in the beverage cooler beside her, pulled out a drink, and popped the top.
“What are you doing?” Allen demanded, straining his neck to see her. “Don’t spill any!”
Oh great, I thought. We’re barely a block from home, and they’re already fussing. This should be the break from work that I desperately need.
During our stay, we divided our time between our fourth floor room, beach and pool activities, and favorite sites from past visits. But more than once, I wondered if it was too much to ask that three strong personalities, confined to a one bedroom with two double beds and a bath, could live in harmony for four days.
By the end of the second full day, I was convinced that we couldn’t survive after yet another squabble between the two. I slammed the door behind me. “You two are ruining our vacation,” I snapped. “I might as well go back to work.”
Anger burned inside me like the late afternoon sun blistering the beach. Mentally, I packed my bags and headed back to work. I reached the end of the hall, eased down on the top step, and stared at the endless blue sky. The warm, salty breeze ruffled my hair. Seagulls wheeled overhead and children squealed at waters edge, but I listened to the ocean breath. Waves exhaling upon the shore, then inhaling back out to sea. Why couldn’t the waves wash away my tears? The wind erase the quarrels about what we’d watch on TV, wet bathing suits left on the floor, sand in the tub? Instead, my anger rose and fell with the ocean’s natural rhythm.
“Mom --” Meredith, still damp from her shower, stepped into the hall, looking for me. “Mom-m-m?”
I ducked behind the concrete pillar, not quite ready to forgive and forget.
“I’ll share my Strawberry Passion Fruitopia with you,” she called out in a child’s singsong voice, and then waited for my response. Finally, she yelled, “Mom! Where are you?” Her voice grew high-pitched, expectant. “I don’t want you to go back to work.”
“Me, either,” I said and peeked around the column.
Meredith’s face brightened. She hurried to me, jostling her strawberry drink over the sides of the glass. She plopped down on the step below me and leaned back against my legs. She turned to look up at me and pushed a strand of wet dark hair behind her ear. Tiny freckles scattered across her upturned nose.
“Is this going to be a tradition?” she asked, cocking one delicate brow for effect.
“What do you mean?”
“Every vacation, Daddy and I have fun arguing, and you always get mad and end up on these steps.” She sighed. “It’s becoming a tradition.”
“What?” I stuttered. Is that what she remembered from last time? I reeled from the impact. Memories that endure should be treasures and not the day-in, day-out-petty irritations that threaten to spoil them.
“As a matter of fact, it is a tradition,” I said, trying to recover. “Every year we have a wonderful vacation except for a few minor squabbles, and then we end up on these steps, cuddling, while you make profound statements, and we plan what to do next.”
“What profound statements?” She snuggled closer.
“Little nudges that remind me about our beach treasures,” I said and kicked off my sandals, stretching bare legs with a trace of tan beside hers. “Like our early morning walks on the beach looking for seashells, unhurried lunches in the Village, and afternoons spent by the pool when you say, ‘Mom, catch me when I jump in!’ and ‘Daddy, watch me dive!’”
As the warm Georgia sun kissed the top of our shoulders, Meredith said, “Have a taste,” and passed the drink to me.
I sipped the cold sugary concoction with the fruity kick, taking the time to roll “strawberry and passion” over my tongue. I took Meredith’s hand in mine, linking warm fingers. “Aah, simple pleasures,” I murmured. Life is delicious. Why would I want to go back to work?