Such was the case the other day when Miss Rhonda and I made the annual pilgrimage to Carolina Beach. We went there to visit her brother and his lovely bride-to-be, despite threatening skies and an alleged shark attack.
A newly-discovered used book store drew both of us like a mosquito to a bug light. Yet it held no old friends or new discoveries for me, so I scrunched my disreputable hat lower on my forehead and went walking.
That shark attack was one of the things that kept me bemused as I wandered about the waterfront.
People were scared to go more than a few feet into the surf-although the only shark I've ever seen at the beach came wriggling ashore in the waves, about where the shark-phobes were standing. Seems to me you'd have a better chance of not being Shark-chow where those big beautiful angry gray-green waves were breaking than in the shallows.
Miss Rhonda fought and nearly landed a danged big shark a few miles from there a few years ago. She was using a light rod; since she didn't know you couldn't catch a fish that big on a rod that small, she almost had the darn thing boated before the line broke.
Besides, I knew we could handle whatever piscatorial pest that might have bitten that teenager. My brother-in-law is a lawyer and with his arrival, the surf would be shark-proofed out of professional courtesy.
I stopped to lean on the chain-link fence now surrounding a vacant lot beside the new hotel. I couldn't help but think about how morning glory vines are always sad flowers, whether they are apologetically growing across the barn at my mom's house, or making the only patch of green where a beachfront amusement park once stood.
The rides Miss Rhonda and I enjoyed there on our first real date came down because the new hotel owners found them unappealing. I can't see where a vacant lot half-filled with broken cement and trash looks better-but the morning glories were doing their part to apologize.
Wandering back out toward the beach, I was again confused by the inherently illogical logic of the female mind.
A yellow bikini, you see, can kill a man.
A young man was leaning on his surfboard, waiting to take advantage of the day's high winds. An attractive young lady in a yellow bikini walked by and smiled at him (in her defense, she smiled at everyone along the wooden walk heading for the surf).
Either being (a) polite, or (b) a healthy young man, or (c) both, he smiled back.
Within seconds, another young woman-this one in a much smaller, bright red bikini-stormed over to him and punched him in the arm.
I tried to avoid judging her too harshly, but it seemed to me if she was going to dress like that, with the obvious intention of drawing attention, she ought not to complain too much if her beau's eyes strayed to other young women with similar wardrobes, attributes and philosophies.
It was interesting, too, as I wandered up the boardwalk, to find some of the places I remembered going to, but rarely remembered leaving, when I lived there a decade and a half ago. With one or two exceptions, the establishments had changed quite a bit, as if I was not the only client who had grown up.
A sudden shower-well, sudden to anyone who hadn't been instinctively watching the long black line roll on the horizon-blew in, and people began running for shelter. I was once again struck by the irony that people who were swimming had to run away from a light rainstorm.
I had to assume the swimmers wrapped in their towels were worried about getting wet.
It struck me as wrong, as I strode past the doughnut shop, that a Southern accent, specifically one from Southeastern Carolina, should sound out of place in Carolina Beach, but it was so. The lady behind
the counter in said shop actually said ya'll, and used it correctly. It jarred amongst the twangs and nasals and flat non-accents of so many of the visitors.
The look given to me by a tourist family on the sidewalk reminded me that dressing for the beach, in my case anyway, makes it hard for people to tell if you are homeless or just on vacation. My tired shirt and cutoffs were acceptable to most residents of the beach, but my hat needed retirement. Even a very casual beach has to have some standards.
Despite the fact the seas were heavy, I knew I had to get in the water. One summer when Mother couldn't get to the beach, but I did, she fussed at me for going all that way and not swimming, and made me promise not to let that happen again.
The last time she and the Old Man joined Rhonda and I at the beach, we swam and picnicked and napped right near the shelter where the feuding couple were making up for the bikini-induced argument.
Momma grew up in the Virginia tidewater, and missed the ocean. We always made it a point to give her a little time to herself whenever we went to a beach. Papa, on the other hand, generally found the beach a handy place for a nap.
It was getting close to time to meet Ralph and Callie, so I headed back for the bookstore. I knew we'd likely find some dark place for a cool drink, then wander around some of the shops and eventually go play for a little while in the waves thrashing the sand.
That's what we always do when we go to the beach-well, that, and wander around thinking about doughnuts, old hats, and coming home again for just a little while.