Island Memories

I’m longing for a place. My island home away from home. It calls to me as it always does when it’s time for me to return. Visions of its beauty and happy memories dance through my mind. It feels so far away. It’s just a small island. I know there are many islands and beaches in this world and frankly it’s gotten way too busy for my taste in recent years, but it’s an old friend to me.

My family has been blessed to return to the same spot for family vacation year after year. Driving across the bridge to the island after a long car ride was always a moment of excitement and joy while actually feeling the cares of the world slip away a little. Each year was a little different, depending on who could come and what life circumstances we were in. It was a time for us all to reconnect and have precious hours together. We have celebrated new life there–and mourned the loss of those who had past. It was an annual week of healing for me from whatever life had thrown at me. Most years we were all broke, but somehow managed scrape up the money because it was that important to us. Because of various life circumstances, for the first time in 33 years, my family won’t make this journey. I realize how blessed we were to be able to do this for so many years, but my heart still grieves.

Some of the happiest memories I have are from that island. I’ve walked countless miles on that beach pouring out my heart to God, crying tears of joy or sorrow, laughing with my loved ones, playing with my little boy, nighttime walks with my big sister. Very little time was spent indoors during those weeks. I always tried to stay out on the beach until the last ray of light was gone each day. When I was younger, and wildlife more abundant, we found countless sand dollars, conch shells, crabs, and even watched baby sea turtles hatching. We still try to go crabbing every year and have a mini crab feast for the youngest members of the family. We enjoyed each day, whether it was a sun filled day on the beach as we waited for the slushie cart to roll by, a cozy rain filled day playing games inside, or watching the grand show of a storm rolling in, thrilling to the thunder, storm clouds and tossing waves. I have beautiful memories of our yearly Sunday morning service where the whole extended family would gather in one of the condos to have communion together. My mother cried every year during that service.

It seems odd to some to go to the same spot year after year. But for us it is a truly relaxing vacation because we are not rushing around to see new things. There’s not much to do there but to relax. We know where to eat, we know where to find whatever we need. I just realized that I have the condo phone number in my phone contacts.

So, though I love to travel to new spots and see the sights, this island is where I truly relax. I have gone there so many years that it has become part of me. If you came to my home you would see little pieces of this place tucked in spots all over the house and outside. When I was younger I used to have a recurring bad dream that we were there but had squandered all of our time inside and it was time to leave without having enjoyed our week in the sun. Immediately after Christmas each year my thoughts start drifting toward the island in anticipation of our annual trip. I have found that my son has turned out to be exactly like me in this. Right after Christmas this year he started talking about returning to the island. I had to break it to him that this year we would not be able to return. He was heartbroken and immediately offered to empty his piggy bank to help us pay to go. I had to explain that it wasn’t quite that simple. And he wailed, “But I’ve gone there every year of my life!” Yes, all seven of them, but I guess he’s a lot like me.

I live in the mountains and love them deeply. But I also have a deep love for the ocean, and it feels like I physically long for it if I have not been in some time. I wonder if it’s possible that a person’s body can become so used to going somewhere, so used to the rhythm that it causes physical sensation from not being there? But I know it’s not only missing that spot. It’s missing my mother who has passed, missing my childhood and younger years, missing the childhood of my nieces and nephews, the honeymoon years of my marriage and the babyhood of my little boy. The passage of time is not easy for me, I’m one who seems to have always longed for the past even as a child. Change does not come easy for me – and I feel these things incredibly deeply.

After so many years, we mark them with different memories attached: the year I had the chicken pox, the year one family member was called away for a funeral, the year after certain loved ones passed, the year so-and-so was an infant, the year one of us stood waiting for that special someone to arrive who was going to visit for only a few days, the year we had to leave early because of a hurricane, the year a family member had to be absent, the year I had a broken heart, the year after I had lost a baby, the year that all the cousins had a slumber party in one condo spread out on the floor, the year I took my best friend, the year I danced in the rain with my nieces, the year that sticks out to me as pure joy and a perfect week for all of us… That’s how we mark our years we have gone for so long.

After many years of our annual visits, my mother started declaring each year would probably be the last, but somehow by the end of the week it was always decided that we would be back the next year. It turned into a bit of a family joke.

Every year when we left our island there was much sadness to be leaving. That in a way feels weird to me and might seem weird to others, but I understand why there is such sadness when it’s over. We were not mourning the fact that a vacation was over – we were morning the end of a sacred time and space spent with loved ones. Moments that are too few in a hectic world. This year I’ll remember the happy times and hope that once again my loved ones will be able to meet on our special island.

*Editor’s note: The publication date is the author’s birthday, and her husband surprised her with a few nights on her island. Unfortunately, it will be without her extended family.

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