Down at the Beach ~ Creative Nonfiction

As promised, here’s my first published creative nonfiction piece!

Down at the Beach

    Late afternoon sunlight poured through the large windows that faced quiet Tamarind Drive, pooling on the colorful cement floors of my grandfather’s Florida home and silhouetting my father, who stood in front of a small gathering of less than thirty people. Some of them lingered in the dining room, nibbling on strawberries and cheese. The sounds they made as they ate got quieter when my father cleared his throat. He hadn’t prepared a grand speech; rather, he relied on his memory to give him words to say. Aunt Carol, alone in the front row of mismatched chairs, contributed more tears than everyone else put together. Thunder grumbled in the distance, and the wind rustled the fronds of the palm trees just outside the front door as I watched the forerunners of storm clouds skid low on the horizon. A few neighbors had situated themselves in the back row and on the sides of the room, their smiles brief and their hands twitchy.
My grandfather’s funeral was the first one I’d ever been a part of in my twenty-two years. Up until that day, death had only taken my gerbils and an aunt that I hardly knew. My grandfather’s death affected me, though it wasn’t because we had been close. In all the annual visits my family made to Fort Pierce, I can’t remember a time when my grandfather ever engaged in a normal conversation. My dad would talk to him, but my grandfather would reply with a simple “sure” or “I’ll be darned.” I felt like I’d lost something, but that something wasn’t my grandfather. It was hard to grieve over a relationship that had consisted solely of smiles and casual greetings.
My grandfather was a simple man who rode out hurricanes alone on the island when everyone else fled for higher ground, who paid for internet only to play online checkers and to check the stock market, who was content to eat a can of brown beans or a baked potato for dinner. He was a stunt diver while he lived in one of the Dakotas, and he walked through the jungles of Panama as a young man. My grandfather always took walks around the neighborhood and down the beach to the jetty after dinner. He loved that beach so much that he built a bench and planted it at the end of the walking path, where the scrubby trees and sea oats ended and the open sand began.
My grandfather didn’t want a fuss over funeral arrangements. The simpler the service, the better. About half of the people who had been gathered in the living room trailed out behind my dad as he led them to the beach, which was a short five-minute walk away. The beach was windier than usual because of the storm creeping onto the western horizon, over the jetty line. Skirts and pant legs flapped, and the few words spoken were lost in the wind. Aunt Carol, followed closely by my dad, rolled up her capris and waded into the ocean, the canister containing my grandfather’s ashes tucked against her side. Carefully, she unscrewed the lid and shook the ash onto the surface of the waves that had beaten the beach he’d lived by for decades.
The procession back to my grandfather’s house was spurred by the scent of rain on the wind. The short walk was so familiar that I could have walked there and back again with my eyes closed. It had been five years since my last visit to Florida. Fort Pierce, my grandfather, the beach––nostalgia was beginning to get the better of me. I was the last person to reach the house, and immediately I went to the kitchen for two Ziplock bags. I walked back to the beach, alone this time, to collect my thoughts and comb the shores for seashells. The sun had been crowded out by the storm clouds that had begun to arrive in earnest, and the thunder was louder. I could see lightning in the darkest parts of the sky, and I felt the first raindrops as soon as my feet sunk into the still-warm sand. The stretches of beach to my right and left were deserted, and I felt peaceful as I waded through the shallows of the surf, making my way toward the jetty. The tide had gone down in the fifteen minutes I’d been away, and seashells littered the shore. Broken pieces stuck up out of the sand, and smooth halves, still intact, floated back with the receding water. I strolled, searching for shells and the evasive sand dollars that I’d hunted for on that beach ever since I knew they existed. The rain crescendoed all the while, and forced me to turn back when I was only half-way to the jetty. I could hardly see by the time I got back to my entry point; in fact, I almost missed it. I stooped, my soaked clothes clinging to my skin as I filled my second Ziplock bag with sand.

The Torch, Union University’s Literary Arts Magazine, Spring 2014


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