In 2005, my parents invited my husband and me for a weekend in the cabins at Kalaloch Lodge on the coast. Being that my father was a very frugal man and could not fathom paying the steep summer rates, we went during February – the off-season, when it is typically gray and wet.
Only that year it was not gray nor was it particularly wet. On that first of what has become a family tradition, we walked for miles on the wide, shimmering sandy shores. We talked about everything and nothing. We admired the ripples left behind by the waves in the sand. We marveled at how wind and water could conjure up the force to heave such gigantic pieces of driftwood at the shore.
At the time, my husband and I were only a few years married and had no kids. We did, however, have two young German shepherds who ran themselves to the point of near exhaustion with the glee of it all. They were delirious with the experience of sand and sea. As the sun melted into the water that night, they happily fell asleep damp and sandy next to the dying fire in the fireplace.
With each return to Kalaloch, the memories of the previous visits become somehow more vivid, more real, as if I can feel their weight and roughened texture in my hands. It is incredibly beautiful and soulful to see the flashes of our boys, now almost 7 and 5, as they were years ago, bundled up to overprotection, toddling towards an unsuspecting flock of seabirds, arms outstretched, movements jerky, wanting with all their being to catch one.
Within the four walls of the cabin, I can see my dad holding a baby Cody up to the light switch – flip up, flip down, laugh, repeat – learning about cause and effect.
I see my mom, a boy on either side of her like sleepy bookends in footie pajamas, listening to her read “The Eensy Weensy Spider” for the third or fourth time.
I see my husband – half sitting, half lying next to them – always able to squeeze in a quick catnap. And our two furry shadows, the dogs, lay ever nearby waiting for the next beach adventure.
It is a strange thing to go back to the same place, year in and year out. Each trip there is difference in landscape and circumstance. The driftwood comes and goes. Our children grow from sand-eating babies to little explorers. The creek flowing into the ocean shifts in its location and rate of speed. Our beloved German shepherds shift from flashes of brown and black fur chasing sticks to panting old pups resting on the sand.
The trees, strong creatures that they are, clutch the eroding soil with leg-like roots and point bare, deformed branches accusingly towards the land as if to say, “The wind has gone that way.”
And my dad, the love of my mom’s life for more than 46 years, disappeared little by little into the fog of Alzheimer’s, where neither lighthouse nor foghorn could help him navigate his way back to us. He died a little over a year ago, leaving a vast emptiness in our family and in our hearts.
The boys learn life is not constant nor is it fair, but they also learn about love and family, sand castles and forever orange sunsets.
Every year we stroll next to the ocean on that same stretch of sand. Every year it is different and yet the same. Every year we make more memories, taking some with us and leaving some behind to bob up and down in the waves, a message in a bottle for our future selves to find.Nancy Magnusson is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. She lives with her husband and their two young sons just outside of Gig Harbor. They enjoy focusing on the simple things in life and taking the road less traveled. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.