July 4 is next week, and unlike so many years of my childhood, we’ll spend the holiday at home in Charlotte. We used to celebrate Independence Day in the waterfront park of Southport, NC. Every year, we packed a huge picnic and spread our blankets in the grass and stuffed our bellies and stretched out on our backs to watch fireworks in every color of the rainbow light up the black sky over the Cape Fear River. Then, we piled in our car, exhausted but happy, and drove back to our beach house on Oak Island.
We haven’t seen the Southport fireworks in more than 15 years. In that time, my grandparents had to sell the beach house. Marriages ended. Kids went away to college, graduated and got jobs. Weddings happened. We learned that my little sister has Batten disease. My grandmother, an angel on earth and the matriarch of our family, went to heaven this past Christmas Day.
Five or six years after my grandparents built the beach house, the town started to have problems with erosion on the beach. My grandmother once told me that the problem stems from the fact that Oak Island meets the Atlantic Ocean at an odd angle. The cabana at Long Beach just up the street from our house washed away, so the town rebuilt it. If we wanted to take a walk on the beach, we had to time it just right, or else our walk could turn into a swim.
And yet, that sandy finger of land on the coast of North Carolina always held magic for us, even as the forces of nature exerted their will. We loved the new cabana just as much as the old one. We missed having a wide beach, great for long walks and sand dollar hunts and dreaming, but we just pulled our chairs right up to the dunes where the waves couldn’t get us, dug our feet into the thick sand and drank up the sun.
But life is not a beach, and Batten disease is not the ocean.
Will these waves of change keep pounding away until we have nothing left but our memories?