Tuesday, March 11, 2008
No one will ever say that I do things the easy way. But it took me moving to the middle of the continent to realize things about the place I came from. I had lived almost all my life on the coast of South Carolina with all the ocean, sand, and sea breezes anyone could ever want and it was not until I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado did I learn to love the ocean more than I could ever imagine. While I was born on an army base in Arizona my dad was stationed at I spent most of my childhood living just a few short miles from Pawleys Island. A place that I still consider very magical and special to me. The best way I can describe the Pawleys Island of my youth was that the place had an out of the way coastal village feel. Even though now urban growth has taken a great deal of the quiet coastal village feel and replaced it with urban yuppie coastal chic I still love going back to it.
Georgetown, the town I lived in and about 15 miles south of Pawleys, in the 60's and 70's was a small, quiet, southern town. You would be hard pressed to find the "higher forms" of culture that other people in bigger cities appreciate about their hometowns. But we did have the beach and you could find many of us heading for the ocean anytime we got the chance. While classical music was in short supply we did have beach music. And while fine restaurants, at that time, were few we did have fresh oysters, shrimp, grits, and some of the best home cooked fried flounder you could ever find.
As the years for me went by I had come to overlook the very magic of the place. So one day in 1986 I left my home and flew far away to Colorado to serve my country. At that point in my life I wanted to see a different part of the country, and to get away from my family. Like many of my age I had come to view their affection as more an interference in my life and I wanted to strike out on my own. I arrived in Colorado in the summer and quickly fell in love with the place. The mountains were awe inspiring and I enjoyed hiking threw the trails in the warm months. But in October the snows began and at first I enjoyed the snow, I had only seen snow about five times my entire life before living in Colorado. When it did snow in South Carolina the snow had the good manners to have melted away within a couple of days after throwing the entire state into a panic. In Colorado it snowed and snowed and when you think it wouldn't, it snowed some more. So this Lowcountry boy began to dread the winters and, no I never learned to ski. By the time snow skiing season had begun I had decided that the best place for me was in my room under four blankets doing research on human hibernation. Except for my duties I was pretty much holed up until spring. Thank God even though there might be five feet of snow of the ground and more still coming the boys and girls at the various pizza joints always got the pizza to me at least warm.
I was on my second year in Colorado when I returned home on leave and realized how badly I missed the ocean. I came home in late September and the cold winds had already started blowing at Fort Carson promising an early winter but the weather at Pawleys Island was still fully entrenched in summer. This was 1988 and most of the tourists had gone home and the locals were busy with their lives. Kids were in school and the great majority of adults were at their day jobs and this was before hurricane Hugo trashed the place when you could still see the "arrogantly shabby" bumper stickers on the cars of people who lived at Pawleys.
I wasn't suppose to have leave that summer. My unit's leadership wanted enough people on hand for any last minute demands for extra bodies any other units in the division might need for their summer field training. The eternal curse of those in air defense units is to be farmed out to other units when they need someone to pull their shit details like good old KP, guard duty, or my favorite driving some gung-ho officer around who at 1:30am wants to go find his buddy in another unit to trade MRE's. This is after you have just gotten in your army fart sack (sleeping bag) after pulling four hours of guard duty. So I was very surprised one fine morning to have my First Sergeant at morning formation call out several names, mine being one of them, wanting us to report to his office. Usually such a call does not mean good news but once the others and I were assembled in his office we were quickly told that we had been approved for leave anytime between now and the middle of October. While this was good news I had no high expectation that I would be able to get a plane ticket back home for the seven days of leave that had popped up for us. But none the less I called and got a great airfare for a flight just three days later. Here is where I should have called and told my family that I was coming home. But some idea popped into my head to fly in and surprise them with a call from me at the Charleston airport.
I flew into Charleston late one morning and hustled over to the military lounge to call my family and eat all the taxpayer provided free food and drink all the free sodas I could while I waited for them to automatically drop whatever they were doing and joyfully drive the sixty miles south to pick up their grandson, nephew, or cousin. After several hours of calling and getting absolutely no one I started to get worried. I had even begun to entertain the thought of renting a car when I finally reached Uncle Paul at his house. I quickly learned that my grandparents, Uncle George, and his wife were on vacation at Cherokee, North Carolina and would not be back for at least the entire week I would be on leave. Uncle Paul, Lady Einstein, and their son Neo were themselves but a few hours away from driving down to Miami to board a Carnival Cruise ship and seven days in the Caribbean. I had somehow picked the very moment that month when the entire family was just not busy but away for the entire time I was scheduled to be home. Uncle Paul explained that since I had called several months before saying that it didn't look like I would make it home everyone had made other plans. Renting a car was looking like my only option to make it home, which would blow my budget for just about the entire trip. Uncle Paul told me to hang on and call him back in one hour. When I did he he told me that my honorary uncle Surferdude was on the way to pick me up and would take me back to Charleston the next week. Uncle Paul told me to hang out at his house and that the place was mine along with his car. True to his word SurferDude showed up a little over an hour later and dropped me off at Uncle Paul's beach house. My luck continued to hold out as bad when SurferDude told me he had to go back home and get ready for work the next day.
So after SurferDude left I walked a lonely beach with a salty breeze blowing around my head and warm ocean water around my feet. I could hear the seagulls circling around knowing that they were looking for their food. That day the ocean water was so clear and clean it almost looked like water from the Caribbean. I could see many small bait fish swimming around in the shallow areas. More than likely that was what had the gulls in such an uproar. I walked over to the creek side and smelled the marsh at low tide. Some have compared that smell to something bad but to me it's a smell that signifies life. It was there that I meet a beautiful young lady, who for the sake of clarity I will call Sharon, who had also come home from living elsewhere. She was taking a semester break from attending college in Tennessee. Being about the same age and for the most part alone Sharon and I hit it off rather quickly and began to hang out together. A couple of days went by as we walked the beach, saw some movies, and played in the water. After she realized I probably wasn't a complete nut we had dinner at her house and watched the stars come out that night. We talked about our love of Pawleys Island and wondered why we had left such a place. It turned out that she also felt that her family was interfering to much in her life and that moving away would give her some independence. As the night went on a summer rain shower moved in and we went to her room and listened to a Van Morrison album call "Moondance" as the rain fell outside. That morning we walked the beach and watched the sunrise. We spent a couple more days with each other before we both returned to our separate lives. As fate would have it we wrote each other for a few months and slowly drifted away. She had returned to school and I had my duties as a soldier.
It was just a few months later that I was pulling guard duty at place called Pinon Canyon in southeastern Colorado. It was on the plains in a bad snow storm and I was in a foxhole, very cold watching the blowing snow. I was enthralled by the patterns the snowflakes made as they came down but at the same time I knew this place was alien to me. That I did not belong there and that I should return home as soon as possible. Which was of course problematic, I had almost two more years on my enlistment and Uncle Sam was not about to release me. So I did what I had to do and finished my enlistment. I left Colorado in 1990 and returned home to the place I should have never left. I spent the following two years attending college myself and working to shape my adult life. Which looking back to that period now, maybe I should have done a few more things differently. But a real comfort to me has been just strolling down that sandy little island letting the water wash over my feet. It has always has brought be back to some sort of peace and let my mind settle whatever problem I may have had.
Yes, I think of that lovely lady often. After stumbling over "Moondance" at a used CD store years later I bought it and to this day it brings back Sharon and our time together like it was yesterday. I never saw her again, I figure she is happily married having yuppies and raising puppies, as Jimmy Buffett would say. I wonder if she ever thinks of me?