Across much of the country school is out for the summer. Or if it is not already out it will be so in the next week or so.
The end of school also marks the start of summer vacation for many families who will head towards the beaches on the Nation’s borders in search of sun and surf.
For those like myself who grew up along the coast the drive to find summer sun and surf is a relatively short one.
Another benefit of being so close to the coast meant that summer vacation did not need to be a single week on the beach and could truly last all summer long.
As part of the summer long salute to summer, I would often spend time with my grandparents who lived on Anna Maria Island on the west coast of Florida which was about two hours away from where I lived.
Although the distance between Orlando and the island was short, there were worlds of differences as time seemed to slow down the closer to the coast I got.
My mom’s dad died when I was 5 so the only “grandfather” I had was my dad’s mom’s second husband, Ryland. So from the time I was five I did not have a biological grandfather per se but I did have a Ryland, and that was twice as good in many ways.
Trips to see my grandparents would include fishing and shelling and if I was lucky a trip to Big Olaf’s to get homemade ice cream inside a waffle cone.
One summer I even created my own saltwater aquarium with hermit crabs, shrimp, mollusks and other creatures of the sea that I caught.
Whenever my grandparents would travel up to visit they would bring gallons of saltwater from the Gulf to keep my aquarium going.
It was years later in a pet store that I learned about making one’s own saltwater for aquariums. Still, I am glad that I had the gallons of real Gulf of Mexico water delivered to me.
The bottles always made me laugh since Ryland would write “non potable” on every spare side lest I think that the brownish water contained inside was good for drinking. I never had any desire to drink the water, and the markings were not necessary, but I never thought to tell him that and I am sure even if I did he would still have marked them anyway.
Ryland and Mom Mom lived on various parts of Anna Maria Island for around 30 years and while my visits to see them became harder and harder to accomplish after I moved to Texas I always tried to see them whenever I could.
When I would visit them after I moved to Texas I would wear the same UCF shirt. I don’t know if they ever caught on or thought that I didn’t have enough clothes but to me it was fun to have pictures of us together year after year and me wearing the same thing.
I last saw them and wore my photogenic UCF shirt in 2009. Ryland died about a year and a half after that visit and Mom Mom moved to an assisted living center near Orlando so they are no longer on the beach.
Recently I had the opportunity to return to the beach of my youth for a week long vacation in a beach house. I did not realize it at the time the house was booked but it is two blocks away from the last beach house that my grandparents had.
Driving in from the airport I was surprised at how little had changed since my last trip there. Of course with everything looking the same, my mind was tricked into thinking that I would see my grandparents as I always did when I came down there.
While the rationale part of me knew that they aren’t on the beach anymore, there was an emotional side that thought they were still around.
This mind playing tricks on me aspect came to the forefront one day when I was relaxing on the patio. A man walked up to tell me something about the trash being at the curb and for a moment I swore it was Ryland.
This is not to say that I am losing my mind but more to the fact that there are certain types of people that live on the beach and a metamorphosis occurs once that sun and water hit the retired folk. Whatever they were in their working days falls by the wayside and they become beach bums or fishers or numerous other things.
For Ryland the days were spent fishing and looking after beach rentals. For all I know the house I rented may have even been one of the ones that he oversaw.
So my week at the beach included floods of memories of places we went and things that he showed me or told me. At the time he was saying the things it was usually chalked up to Ryland being Ryland but as I have gotten older I can see some of the wisdom in what he said. But of course some of the stuff really was just Ryland being Ryland.
Ryland did not want a funeral so none was held when he died. All he had asked was that people stop and think of him now and then. I do think of him during my time back home as there are various memories that are triggered but the week at the beach opened the flood gates of memories.
And while I often wish that I had been granted the opportunity to know my other grandfather, Pop Pop, for as long as well, I am lucky to have had as much time as I did with Ryland. And for a week on the beach that he roamed for three decades I was once again close to him and seeing the sights that he saw and walking the docks where he taught a much younger version of me how to fish and how to fillet a fish while it was still squirming. And while I will most likely never have to fillet a still breathing fish, or properly dispose of the non edible portions of said fish, at least I know how to should the need ever arise. And remember if the water is brown it is probably a good rule of thumb that it is non potable.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have some new memories to make.
Copyright 2013 R. Anderson