The news is going on and on this morning. It’s the first day of hurricane season, and the announcement leaves a numbness in my soul. For us, there is nothing really to prepare for, not anymore.
When I was a kid, I spent many summer weekends in this little cabin my grandpa called his fishing shack. There were 2 cabins really, and a little trailer in the middle. The trailer was Kid Central. It had these 2 twins beds that somehow slept 20. Okay, maybe not 20, but at least 15! The grown-ups would be having poker parties in the cabin, while we had our very own fridge full of sodas in the kid place!
I’ll never forget the year my mom’s friends came down. Their boys were of the “home grown, corn fed” persuasion. Boys, girls, cousins, friends, siblings, we were all piled up in that little trailer when I hear Mark say “damn skeeters!” (In his thick southern draw.)
“Skater? Where?” I’m looking out the window for cute boys on skateboards and he’s slapping mosquitoes on his leg! Ok, so Blondie’s not the only one to have a little “moment”…
That cabin made me sneeze like crazy. I’m allergic to everything, especially mold! I couldn’t go in the Spring when things were blooming. I could only go in the dead of summer or in the winter when the air was still. I once went when they were mowing, and ended up so sick (I’m talking breathing treatment in the ER sick) Softy had to bring me home! I ruined his whole weekend I’m sure. He loved that place.
My grandpa pretty much grew up there too. As a boy he built those cabins alongside his father. I can remember being there with Daddy O’ and Mama Jimmy. I am beyond lucky to have such memories of my great grandparents. I can close my eyes and smell breakfast cooking in the salty air. That same stove she cooked bacon on when I was a child was still cooking the bacon the last time I was there. Since my great grandparents were The Pyle’s, a sign stood out front that said “Pyle Inn”- pun totally intended!
That place was magical. I can remember the world’s worst couch bed folded out, with me and my sisters piled up on it. My grandpa would tell us ghost stories. The Golden Arm was his best one. I loved going to Bolivar with him. He took me to the beach early in the morning. We would search for seashells. Especially rare ones. We collected so many they’re still all over my house! And he would drive me around the peninsula, and tell the history in the most engaging way. He didn’t take me fishing much, probably because I was deeply opposed to cleaning my own fish, and apparently that was one of his rules, but he took me crabbing. (Even though I didn’t eat crabs, more for him, I guess!) And he gave me the most amazing gift there, his time.
My mother loved it too. Anytime she could get us down there for a weekend, she made it happen. She tried each year to host a beach party. Every one who was anyone who ever knew any of us came. Hundreds of people gathered with us on the beach and we spent the day with sunshine and barbecue. Ok, and cold beer. I’m not gonna lie…
When I got older my grandpa would come to the party with a shade tent and sit under there telling stories. I could spend hours listening to him talk. Even if he was lecturing me, I hung on to his every word. I was a freshman in college the last time I remember going to the beach party. I was supposed to be at a debate tournament, but something told me to turn around and go home. Yep, I ditched school for a party, and I don’t have a single regret on that one!
I was going through so much that year. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to be all the promising things everyone thought I was going to be. My heart wasn’t right. There were a few demons chasing me, things I hadn’t made peace with. I turned down scholarships to go out of state because my sister begged me to stick around. Truth is, I was glad she begged me, I wasn’t ready to go so far away from her. There was a time in my life that my sister was everything to me. In many ways, she still is, but thinking of where we are at this very minute, I can’t help but cry. I can remember us walking around that peninsula, scavenging treasures (like the hood ornament from a VW bug that I still have) and loving our time together!
In my late teens, I used to make my mother so mad, because sometimes I would sneak down there with my friends. We would do the silliest things, like play Yahtzee or chess at the kitchen table. We never disturbed anything, at least not when I was there, but it just drew me in. Like a magical hide away where all your problems stayed out on the front porch. Once you stepped inside, it was just nothing but calm. My first year on my own, I went there a lot.
I loved digging through the old pictures, the calendars. They basically had created a log of who had been there and when. There were notes about storms and damages repaired, the weather, and stag parties. My favorite storm recollection is that Hurricane Alicia washed away the front porch, but the entire thing was found, still intact, a few miles down the road in a pasture. The cow skull that had always just sat there was still sitting there, as if it had never moved an inch. I thought that was the most curious thing, that the porch could float miles away and hold on to that skull!
When my grandpa died, I hadn’t been down to Bolivar in years. I felt so disconnected from part of my family that I didn’t have any desires to go. The sneezing didn’t help. It made me sick, I missed my grandpa, so I couldn’t find a reason to want to be there. Then one day I desperately needed a vacation with my kids, and I couldn’t afford one. My mom suggested I take them to the beach.
All we needed was gas money. We’d buy our regular groceries, and just cook in the cabin, and spend our days on the sand. The memories of my grandpa came back to life. The things he taught me, the joys he shared with me, the stories he told me, my mother’s love for this place, it all just surrounded me again. I started a new journal! I gathered up friends and family and took them with me. For two or three years I took my kids down there and we recharged our spirits!
My home away from home had come back to me. I could cram 20 people into that little cabin and it felt peaceful! I still don’t understand it because 9 people in my house feels chaotic at times, but there, it was true- the more the merrier! Maybe it was the salt air, or the history floating around, or the ghost of my grandpa smiling down, I don’t know. All I know is that Hurricane Ike destroyed the most precious place, and I still can’t believe she’s gone, but I thank God that I got to share it with my kids, because if I hadn’t gone back those last few times, it would be my deepest regret!
But you wanna hear something truly amazing? Hurricane Ike filled those cabins with water, at least 7 feet deep, and all I could think of was that the journal would be lost. When we were finally able to get down there, it sat in the center of the table, where I left it, untouched by mother nature! This video is pretty old now, but you can see a little of what we saw when we first went back. Now, our little piece of heaven is an empty lot, and no matter what we put there, it will never be the same! So go ahead Hurricane Season, crank it up, but you already got me, I’m down for the count. Why don’t you try to play nice this year?