Before heading off to work this morning, I had to say goodbye to my parents and my three youngest siblings who have been visiting us this week. Since leaving for college nine years ago, my time with family has always been marked with relative brevity and goodbyes. It doesn’t seem to be getting any easier to say a meaningful “goodbye” or to translate my love into a parting hug, although the tears have decreased between my freshman year and now. I am so grateful that they put the time and effort into visiting as frequently as they can. One of my sisters lives in town and another sister lives two hours away, so they are able to fit many visits in one trip. This visit they also extended trip down to see some friends on Hilton Head Island. They left Thursday and had intended to return Friday night, but Matt and Dad put their heads together and proposed that we drive down Friday night, stay with them, and spend Saturday (Matt’s birthday) together at the beach. My mom’s first response was to ask, “What about the money-free weekend?” I am flattered that at least one person takes this so seriously, but I figured I would just do a special “mooching” edition of Money-Free Weekends and enjoy my weekend at the ocean.
Hilton Head Island is my favorite place in the world. I love the salt-marshes busy with frisky fiddler crabs watched by unmoving snowy herons; I love the sea food prepared fresh by unpretentious cooks; I love the bike and running trails that stretch on for miles and miles shaded by trees and dotted with “Don’t Feed the Alligator” signs. Most of all I love the beach. The grey waves of the Atlantic sweep in and out of the white sand which at low tide is packed as hard as concrete. At Coligny Beach there is a wheelchair mat laid out from the boardwalk to the water line. Matt can wheel down the beach as easily as he maneuvers the bike trails, and we can take walks down the beach hand in hand as naturally as anyone else. Our preceding times in Hilton Head were in the off season when the beaches are nearly deserted. We make our way down the beach hand in hand until we come to a small pools skimming rippled sand where Matt looks for orphaned sea creatures to throw back into the ocean and I read a book until he’s saved all the ocean life he can and is ready to move again. This was our first time being there in the summer, and there was a drastic difference. I still loved it, but I loved it with about three thousand more people.
We got to the island late Friday night, and spent a little time with my brother Tim before going to bed. Saturday morning, my parents who are hardcore runners, set off on the trails. My dad told me that the island has 53 miles of running trails, and I think he intends to run them all at some time or another! Matt and I loaded the kids up into our Element and drove down to the beach. It was a circus of brightly colored umbrellas, beach chairs, and people, mostly people. We wiggled into an empty pocket on the beach sat back to enjoy the minutes leading up to breakfast. A hot hour and the beginnings of a sunburn later, I texted my parents to enquire as to their estimated time of arrival. Turns out my parents aren’t fools, and they had taken advantage of the babysitting to go and begin breakfast without us. When we had finally rinsed ourselves of sand and driven the short distance to Kenny B’s, they were comfortably sitting inside finishing their stacks of pancakes. The payment for babysitting is breakfast, so I happily took Daddy’s credit card and bought us all a place at the buffet of roasted vegetables, fluffy beignets, the crispiest bacon, and lovely scrambled eggs.
After breakfast Matt the birthday boy got to decide what we did, and he sent us back towards the beach. There were, if this is possible, even more people than before breakfast. But the tide was lower, so we were able to find an open spot further down where we could spread out our blanket, towels and water bottles. We spent the day roasting, swimming and talking about “shoes and ships and sealing wax.” I’ve concluded that the best money-free activity is to be outdoors with family. After several hours, we dragged ourselves back up the beach and the wheelchair ramp to the boardwalk where we rinsed off and tried to make ourselves presentable for dinner. Coligny has charming little changing rooms that recall the 1920’s when gentlefolk would set up little tents on the sand. In spite of our sunscreen, we were all glowing red as we made our way to dinner. And there is something about the combination of sweat, sunscreen and sea water that changes my hair into some kind of stranger sitting on my head. It looks and feels like long abused Barbie hair. The restaurant, thankfully, was dim.
We feasted on steak, fish, and tomatoes with made-in-house mozzarella. After dinner the waiter brought out an enormous piece of cheesecake dripping in strawberry sauce with a candle for Matt. We ordered a few more desserts, and gave Matt his presents. Matt and I also gave my parents some HHI decals for their cars. They are going native. My dad said some kind words about how happy they were to host us in Hilton Head after all the nights we’ve let them stay at our house; then he pulled on that silvery plastic card and stuck it with the bill. Which brings me to my number one rule of mooching – if you give to generous people, you will always get a fantastic return on your investment.
Nathanael rode the four hour journey home with us, and I taught him how to sing along with Cowboy Troy. Then Matt and I decided that if one of two things happens and another thing doesn’t happen, we are going to make a drastic life change – just to do it. We spent the rest of the trip planning it all out. Planning the future with Matt, even a hypothetical future, gives me such a calming sense of togetherness. We reached home before 11:00, I went to collect my fur child, and we all collapsed into our beds sunburned and exhausted (and Matt another year older).
Sunday was just as lovely. We went to church with my sister Sarah then went back to her house for a rowdy indoor picnic. Matt and his little brothers-in-law wrestled. When I, on the side, asked if Matt was okay, he rolled his eyes and said, “It’s nice to get beat up once in a while. You wouldn’t understand.” I cleaned my house from top to bottom, and my mother helped me get caught up on about five loads of laundry. Laundry is my Achilles heel of housework. We watched Masterpiece Mystery and ate pizza for dinner. The night concluded appropriately with my mom and me lying on top of the guest bed giggling uncontrollably after trying to think of as many egg puns as we could. Matt and Dad stood at the door staring at us and shaking their heads. I’m just glad they have each other to lean on in these times.
But now they are gone, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Soon, I hope. It may have been an indulgent weekend, but we came out only having spent $11 on the souvenirs for my parents. Next weekend will, unfortunately, be more realistic.
(I'll add pictures later when I'm not using government property to blog).
Edit: Photos are still from my cell phone. And no picture could do justice to the crowds of the beach!