Friday, June 18, 2010


There is a photo of me as a baby, taken when I was a year or so old (judging from the teeth and time of year) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
In it, I am sitting triangle-toed, wearing a Myrtle Beach t-shirt that clings to my chunky little torso like sharpei-skin, in a white bonnet that frames an apple-face and an unruly tuft of hair uptop. My expression reads: I have sand in my ass and there's not much I can do about it. The blend of annoyance and resignation, along with the squinch-face chub, misfit handful of teeth and other perfectly random details in the periphery (the old-school campers in the background, for example, or the baby sitting next to me in a Michigan State t-shirt who was Chad Taylor, now married with 5 kids of his own--our mothers are still close friends) make this a favorite photo in the Grimes household.
It has been framed on a shelf in each and every one of the residences where Jesse and I have lived. Often when I am in a less-than-perky mood, Jesse refers to the I have sand in my ass photo, which is an effective technique to conjure up at least a slight laugh. Unfortunately, the photo took a good beating before we could make copies of it; there are bits of color lost and flaked off, including one like a perfect bullet hole in the center of my forehead. It's also jaundiced and cracking.

The Campbell family took a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a week each summer from the time when I was a non-walking baby all the way through high school. We made the journey by car, drove the twelve odd hours in a day and a half, tracing the route in green highlighter on the AAA Trip-Tik which we consulted every few miles, accelerating in enthusiasm. In the early years, we camped in our Jayco camper, pulled with great exertion from the rear of our tired station-wagon. Eventually we graduated to overly air-conditioned hotel rooms with balcony windows that steamed up like a shower door. We grew up along side this beach, watched it grow boardwalks, malls and neon arcades and observed the roads cram with tourists. And it, in turn, observed our interests mature from spending all day at the beach building sand castles and collecting shells to observing members of the opposite sex in swimsuits. We began to bring friends and wanted to go off on our own. We drank alcohol from opaque sports bottles.

Last week, Jesse, Opal and I flew to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to inaugurate a new era of family vacationing with the next generation of Grimes'. We shared a condominium with my mom, dad, brother, Chris, and five-year old niece, Stella, that backed up to a lagoon that was the dwelling-place for turtles, gators and a motley collection of birds. The surrounding landscape was that of a jungle, tangled solid with centuries of growth, that'd been carved out for roads and gulf-courses and bike-paths. Biking through this sort of enormous nature, dangling with globs of Spanish moss that twitched and swayed in wind with the fluidity of Jellyfish, inspired a feeling of humility. It was as if, left to its own devices, these trees and this earth would gladly swallow up the automobiles and asphalt as easily as a gator with a turtle in its mouth, to return to a state of knitted-leaf, organically quilted perfection.

We spent the week vacationing indoors as well as out. Everyone graciously adapted to the nap and food rhythms of an 8-month old. Existing like this, everyone under one roof, was a pleasure in so many ways, from dining together for every meal to staying up way too late after the kids went to bed, playing cards and watching old Saturday Night Lives, laughing until cackles turned to the liquid cries of irrepressible emotion, head in hands.

Stella was the ambassador of playtime and she took it upon herself to train Opal of the cultural ins-and-outs of a five-year old. She generously shared her babies and toys and spent hours on the floor with Opal, playing peek-a-boo and cooing her into wide grins and fits of giggles. The connection between the two of them was palpable, Opal watched Stella like a constellation of stars. Seamlessly captivated. And though it had been three months since she'd seen everyone except for my mom (who flew out to Colorado in April) she undoubtedly remembered them all, settled into their laps and arms with no effort, took long walks with them, allowed them to feed her. There wasn't a moment of hesitation, only a clear understanding of who is family.

We spent our fair share of between-nap-times in the water until our flesh puckered. We alternated between the silky-clean water of the pool and the beach, where we were constantly glazed in a sun-baked, sticky layer of salt. The humidity was visible at all times of day; skin had a cellophane-sheen any moment it stepped away from air-conditioning. In the pool, Opal was delighted and proud to apply her skills from the swimming classes she took at home--kicking, one-two-three-jump! and back floats-- as well as taking a baby-load off in the floaty pool Ama brought her. Beach-time was spent digging in the smooth, syrupy sand in the tide pools and where the baby-waves could lap at her legs. Cousin Stella drip-coated our legs and feet with sand as if we'd ordered up expensive spa treatments. Opal clawed at the ground as if she were sitting in and on something worthy of great and focused study. We took her knee-deep into the water and lifted her over the waves just as they crashed beneath her. She shrieked with joy and reached for the foamy water, splashing herself with salt as she smacked the water's surface. So much newness! So many untouched details to dive into and explore head-on! Bless her heart, she had a voracious appetite all week and slept like the dead.

A photo was taken of Opal in the sand, unintentionally resembling the photo of myself from way back when. Same tuft of hair and apple-face, same blended expression of annoyance with the elements along with the excitement that comes with new environs. Same collection of hodge-podge peripheral details (bicycle dropped on a slanted horizon-line, half of sweet Stella) that make a snapshot like this the true, un-contrived slicing and capturing of a moment that will live happily with the other memory-jogging tchotchkes on a shelf for years to come.

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