By Michael Lydick
In my house in East Bend, there’s a weathered basket on the small table by the front door filled with key chains. As we leave for Ocracoke, a thought pops up from the confines of my future mind and sees an emptier basket. Our increasingly older son’s and daughter’s keys in baskets somewhere else not here. I close the door and lock it, the house and basket emptier as we leave for Swan Quarter.
Our oldest son is apprenticing with a contractor. His beard filled in thick with red Irish hair. His once pudgy frame filled out with muscles and sinew. On the backseat of his truck, a tool belt and a 12-pack of Cheerwine soda. We assure him that the Variety Store has his favorite beverage, but he wants to be sure.
On the Swan Quarter ferry crossing the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke, my daughter sits in her car with her mother. They’re watching a Netflix series on their phones; between them, my battery-powered, lime-green Ryobi fan. COVID-19 keeps us all in our hot cars and we drew short straws as our cars sit up front in the full sun. I watch them watching their series and my heart hurts and simultaneously smiles. My wife is drinking in the time with her before she leaves for college in a month.
I pull my mask down and walk past the closely packed cars to mine. As I squeeze past golf cart trailers and cooler-laden Laredos, I see our youngest son inside, his bare feet and long legs on the sun-faded dash; earphones in; sunglass-covered eyes directed outwards as the ferry crawls across the sparkling surface of the Pamlico Sound.
This ferry is a time machine. I feel time slowing around me. We are here, and almost there; all together as healing salt air pours over us.
Days later, we are settled into Havana Cabana. It’s my daughter’s 18th birthday and I have been sent to acquire her favorite meal at Eduardo’s. As I stand in line, waiting for her burrito, I feel an angst, as many tourists aren’t wearing masks. My wife reports that the Slushy Stand was being “flamed” online for requiring customers wear them. It’s one example of the tension here as I return home.
Days later, I am on a secret shoal with my sons. We are dragging clam rakes across the dark sand anticipating the metallic “screeeeeeech” when contact is made.
“CLAAAAMMMM!” announces my oldest.
“CLAAAAAAAAMMM!” my youngest reciprocates.
It’s tradition to announce each acquisition as you place your quarry in your mesh bag. Overhead, two F-22 fighter jets streak northward towards Virginia. We all stop and look up into the blue.
Days later, we are all on the beach. We are in tears–good laughing-hard tears; our-sides-hurt-from-laughing-so-hard tears.
My youngest son was stung by a jellyfish. His leg is splotchy– tentacle rose red–and we have no vinegar. I have a full bladder, though, and ask my son how badly he wants to feel better. My oldest jokingly asks if “Cheerwine will do anything?”
I disappear behind my Xterra and return with a small towel and half-filled yellow water bottle. With ice, and a first-aid kit, I do what must be done by dads and wonder if this memory will survive me through the racket of our cacophonous laughter.
We are all here together in this place without time, colleges, beards and key baskets and endless ocean.
I never want to leave here; I never want to leave. Now.
Michael Lydick and his family live in East Bend, Yadkin County, near Winston-Salem.