Love Letter To The Sand

There’s one huge bonus which comes from growing up in a Coast Guard family.Every base where my Dad was stationed was on the water.  I’ve lived on both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the beautiful Pasquotank river, and Lake Michigan.

When I was 5, we lived in Alabama  The Coast Guard owned cottages on Dauphin Island, approximately 35 miles from our house in Mobile.  We stayed there occasionally on vacation.  But the much more important aquatic story took place in Mobile at the end of our street, at the neighborhood swimming pool.

I think my Coast Guard rescue swimmer father is part otter, so he was the designated swimming pool, river, ocean, overly-filled bathtub, deep-potholes-after-a-heavy-rain parent. Dad and I spent many hours together in the water.

The Ross family, circa 1969, at home in Mobile.  From left; Homer, Blond Bombshell Mom, Bud, Dad, and me.

One day I was bobbing around in the shallow end when I saw a kid younger than me swimming.  I thought to myself, “I’ll bet I could do that.”

And, just like that, I did.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me.  This was a graceless stroke that a drunken penguin might employ.  But I was swimming; and I’d taught myself.  My style could be refined later.Four years later, we were living in Elizabeth City.  My folks sent me to a Girl Scout camp in Virginia.

Yeah, it did.  It totally did.

This was where I got formal swim training.  I became proficient in all the strokes, and a junior life saver.

Later that year we moved to Puerto Rico.  We lived on a military base on the very northwestern corner of the island, thus were surrounded by beaches.  The base also had two Olympic-sized pools.  For three full years, I swam somewhere almost every day.

This is where I learned what an undertow was, and how to deal with it: Don’t fight it-you’ll only exhaust yourself, which is when people drown.  Keep your head up and tread water until you come out the other side, then swim to shore—you’ll know when you’re out.

I was best friends with Kitty Murphy. We were inseparable, and became honorary members of each other’s families.

Lighthouse Beach at Punta Borinquen, in Puerto Rico.  The spot where I learned all about flushing.

Very often I would tumble into the car with the rest of the Murphy kids for trips to the beach.  I learned how to body surf, and learned the definition of an ocean related phenomenon: being flushed.

A truly unpleasant and unnerving experience, flushing is when one is caught up in a breaking wave and held underwater while the ocean spins you like a Maytag washer.  It’s an occasional, unavoidable occurrence when body surfing.

The entire Murphy clan found it pie-in-the-face funny.  Truthfully, I did too, when it wasn’t happening to me.  It’s hilarious to see someone furious with the ocean.

Always a classic.

My beach of choice has always been the Outer Banks.  My very favorite thing to do in the ocean gives poor Petey heart failure.  I swim straight out as far and fast as I can (maybe a quarter mile), stop and rest a minute, then turn around and swim to shore.

I relish testing my limits and the absolute solitude.  Petey sits on the sand and mentally rehearses the phone call to inform my parents their only daughter has drowned, been eaten by a shark, or lost in international shipping lanes.My watery tale has a heartbreaking ending.

In 1986 we moved to the Piedmont and four hours from the beach.  My maritime opportunities dwindled drastically.  It has now been so long, I no longer even own a bathing suit.

So, if you hear I’ve been arrested for indecent exposure, don’t worry.

It just means I’ve finally gone swimming.Thanks for your time.

Scenes from the life of an athlete

So Petey was watching a football double feature last night.  That’s right folks, six uninterrupted hours of genetic lottery winners wearing tight pants (both players and corresponding cheerleaders), interspersed with ads for alcoholic beverages, bedroom medicines, and expensive automobiles that shout to all and sundry, “Look at my fast, powerful motor car!  I have no need for bedroom medicines!”  I can happily consume hours of Sharknado movies and marathons of RuPaul’s Drag Race or any of the Star Trek franchises.  But a double feature of football seems like an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Don’t get me wrong.  Even though I didn’t fully understand the Byzantine regulations of football until my twenties, I’m a sports fan, with a long and storied history of athletics.

Age 4: My big brother discovers in me an ability so prodigious and profound it almost qualifies as a superpower.

One day, being the kind of pest only a four-year-old kid sister can be, I’d been begging and pleading to be included in a touch football game.  Permission is granted on the condition that I catch one pass thrown to me.   Shocking everyone present, including myself, I pluck the ball out of the sky, as well as everything else thrown in my direction that day.  I become my brother’s performing seal and cash cow, as he wagers on my skills with those unfamiliar with my freakish feats of hand-eye coordination.

This uncanny catching ability stays with me until middle age when my eyesight starts to go, and fear of a broken hip keeps me from the daredevil jumps and dives of my youth.  Though to this day, I’ve no patience for obscenely rich professional athletes dropping passes thrown by other obscenely rich professional athletes.  Although to be perfectly honest I never tried to lay hands on a ball while being threatened by numerous 300-pounders being paid obscene amounts to flatten me into the Astroturf. Still though, c’mon!

Age 7: I discover my sport of choice; softball, when I play on an undefeated team, the Stripers (which my big brother finds hilarious to pronounce ‘Strippers’).  My catching ability is very useful in my position at shortstop, but my lack of speed when running is a handicap which becomes humiliatingly apparent when I’m on first base; a teammate hits a home run, and then passes me running to second.

Fun fact: If a base runner is passed by the player from the base behind her, both players are called out.  As in, two outs from the same mortifying play.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my father.  And that glass in front of him contains only water–really.

My poor father’s driven to distraction trying to coach a little more speed from me.  After numerous, failed attempts, he devises a tactic in which he mock-chases me around the house waving a bat and bellowing.  Watching my 6’4” dad, whose lurching movements resemble a dancing, drunken, half-stuffed scarecrow chase me around the house becomes a neighborhood amusement.  Each evening, families gather on porches to watch the spectacle.  Together, Dad and I are responsible for fostering new bonds of family and friendship along our street.Ages 17-30: Having lived around oceans growing up, I am familiar with undertows and how to navigate them.  I revel in swimming straight out as far as possible, resting a bit, then leisurely swimming back to shore.  While I adore this activity, Petey spends the entire time I’m in the drink composing the phone call to my parents to explain my disappearance into international shipping lanes, death by drowning, or dismemberment by shark.

Age 30-present: I walk the dog; sometimes for tens of minutes.

Yup, that’s me, walking the dog.

Thanks for your time.

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