Reclining my beach chair to the third notch, I sink deeply into the brightly striped canvas. Blinded by the sun, I grope for my cold beverage, safely ensconced in its Huggie, and dislodge it from the cup holder at the end of the armrest. I draw a long icy sip, letting the cold carbonation fizzle a moment on my tongue before swallowing. My heels wiggle to create two cool ditches for my feet, the sand sifting softly through my toes.
Eyes closed, I soak up the sun, hear the rhythmic splashing of the surf, and feel the gentle ocean breeze.
“Hey Lisa! Are you ready to get beat?” I hear twenty minutes into a deliciously sweaty pseudo nap.
It’s Ralph. He and his wife Pam are under their beach umbrella, and he’s goading me to play ladderball. The day before, I paired up with a fellow vacationer named Grace, and somehow, we managed to win the ladderball championship for the day. Not bad for two middle-aged mothers.
While I try to think of an excuse to stay in my beach chair, Ralph makes his way down to the ocean for a dip. Although Ralph spends most of the day under his umbrella, he gets up occasionally to “go for a swim” (we all know to stay upcurrent) or play a quick game of ladderball or cornhole before going back to his Bud Lite.
I can’t remember which summer it was that our family met Ralph and his wife Pam, but we see them every year, along with other folks who vacation at the same beach. There’s Grace and Steve, Pete and Luanne, Eddie and Nancy, Bobbie and Dan, Al and Gwon, Keith and Laura, and others.
We’ve all been renting beach houses on Hickory Trail for many years, and met eventually, chatting from umbrella to umbrella. Playing beach games. Sharing cold beverages. Watching each others’ kids grow up.
We didn’t need to know much about our “Beach Buddies” lives away from Hickory Trail. We already knew that Ralph is hilarious. Grace is happy-go-lucky. Eddie brings fireworks. Pete reads books. Bobbie wears cute hats. Al’s a great volleyball player. Pam makes awesome sandwiches.
Nothing else seemed to matter.
But this summer, while lounging under our respective umbrellas, conversations stretched with the shadows into the late afternoon. While telling stories to avoid the hassle of cooking dinner, we learned new things about each other.
Ralph has seven siblings, three of which were in the Army. Pam and Ralph’s son is stationed at Ft. Bragg. Pete served in Army Intelligence for several years before taking over his family’s bakery business. Eddie’s son works as a civilian for the military. Keith is a retired Marine.
Like toes wiggling in the sand, we dug a little deeper, and were pleasantly surprised to find a common reverence for military life.
“C’mon Lisa,” Ralph chides on his way back from the water, “Are you and Grace ready to defend your title?”
I peel myself out of the comfy canvas nest and wave at Grace to join me on the ladderball court. While Ralph and the gang heckle us mercilessly, Grace and I surprise ourselves with our third straight win.
After some awkward middle-aged high fives, we circle our chairs around to share more laughs and stories with this random cluster of eclectic personalities. The press and political pundits say there is “gap of understanding” between military and civilians, and that we need to worry about the increasing “military-civilian divide.” But on this Carolina beach, there is only camaraderie and mutual respect.
As the sun dips low in the sky, I’m hopeful the tides are changing.