My grandparents used to own a beach house on Oak Island, a finger of land at the southern tip of North Carolina. Nearly every summer, we spent Fourth of July week on the island; on the Fourth, my family and extended family packed an enormous picnic, piled into cars, drove across the Intracoastal Waterway and its marshy shores and into Southport – a town built where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean. We spread our quilts on the soft grass in front of the pier, watched the boats drift by and filled our bellies. As the evening wore on, the crowd around us on the lawn grew larger. My younger brother and I usually picked our way through the other blankets to the pier to buy snow cones and glow-necklaces before the sun sank beneath the horizon. And when the last rays of sunlight finally faded to darkness, the fireworks began.
My grandparents sold the beach house right around the time Taylor was born. I’ve been back to the island several times since then, and on each visit, I drove past the house. It felt strange seeing someone else’s memories (shells, driftwood), perched on the porch railing. I’ve been back to Southport, but not for the Fourth. In fact, it’s been nearly 15 years since I last saw the sky over the Cape Fear River lit up by sparkling streaks of red, blue, green, purple, orange, yellow, silver and gold. We’ve had to make new memories. But the image of that sky in my mind is just as clear as if I witnessed it yesterday.
Last night, we spent the Fourth of July at my parents’ house, more than 200 miles from our Cape Fear River sky. We had a much smaller crowd and different scenery, but we had amazing food and, afterward, our own fireworks show. Taylor sat in a golf chair and clapped each time Dad shot a Roman candle or bottle rocket into the night. As they exploded over the front yard, I called out the colors, one by one, to my blind sister.
Our world has changed so much; the gap between Southport’s waterfront park and my parents’ driveway is no analogy for the difference between life then and life today. I miss life then. My heart aches for the people I love whose lives have disappeared from mine or whose lights burn less brightly now. But I also love moments of this life – the moments that will become our new memories. I will treasure them forever.