High Tide

By Laura Edwards

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.

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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?


Cape Fear River Sky

By Laura Edwards

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. ┬áIn 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.

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