Today is Memorial Day, a day to give thanks for the sacrifice others have made for our freedom. I salute all our Armed Forces and their families for the super job they do of keeping our shores safe.
(this clip art is of the Undertoad - read more about him below!)
While Memorial Day is a great time for ceremonies, gatherings, and picnics, another summer holiday of days gone by holds a treasured place in my memory. It was a fourth of July of my childhood in the mid-1960's. This day shines bright as a sunrise as a time of family, of belonging, and of innocent contentment.
In coastal Georgia, many of the islands are accessible only by boat. The mid-1960's was a heyday for local shrimp trawlers, and the idea to haul my entire entended family out to St. Catherine's Island on two shrimpboats for the holiday became a reality that long ago July 4th. I was about ten at the time, old enough to know a little, young enough to believe I knew it all.
We had free rein of my daddy's shrimpboat, my many cousins and I, and it seemed that we raced the other boat through the tidal creeks and sound out to the island. I remember pretending to be a figurehead on the bow of the boat, spreading my arms and feeling like I was soaring on the wind. I also remember thinking the churning wake behind the boat looked like a giant vat of Coca-Cola. We soaked up sunshine atop the pilot house, telling pink elephant jokes to amuse ourselves.
We anchored offshore of the island and ferried the fifty some-odd people over in small boats and a canoe. Near the end of the ferrying, a wave broke over the canoe and it rolled. As we on the shore anxiously watched, my cousin and his very young son surfaced and swam to shore, but the canoe never reappeared. The Undertoad had it. (I had this mental image of a human-sized toad paddling the canoe along the ocean floor with his webbed hands.)
We were the only people on the seemingly endless beach, free to explore its windswept shore and climb in the hundreds of uprooted trees above the high tide mark. Because the tree bark was gone we called them skeleton trees. We ran ourselves silly and played in the surf, while the men fished and ran a seine net through the shallows. The women gathered under an awning and set out the feast, and we ate too much.
Come late afternoon, we were sunburned, chilled, and tired. On the long ride back to shore our parents covered us with long pants and sweatshirts. With the gentle roll of the boat and the engine vibration, I slept the entire boat ride home.
We arrived back at the dock at dusk. We didn't know that the world would change and that this experience would never be repeated. That the price of fuel would escale and the bottom would fall out of the shrimp market. We didn't know about divorce back then, or drug abuse, or war but all these pressures from the outside world bore down on our family after this magical holiday.
It has and always will be the most magical time I ever spent with my family and friends. From this memory, I draw my strength of who I am, of being a member in a community, of being loved just for being alive. I carry that innocence and abiding love in my heart, for always.