salt and sunblock

I’m writing from the upstairs balcony of the beach house that Sean’s family has rented for the week. Sean’s Granny turned 90 years old today, and her seven children and their children are here to celebrate. There is a warm breeze blowing across my bare toes and I can hear waves crashing on the beach and younger cousins giggling down below. If it were daytime, I’d be on the lookout for pelicans and sailors on the horizon, but for now I’m just enjoying the dark and letting the salt in the air and the starched ruffle sound of the surf heal my long homesickness for the Atlantic.

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There are thirty of us here, all of them Sean’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and inlaws, with a few outlaws like me for flavor. I’m still working on getting the names and relationships straight, though I’ve met most of them before. The aunts have done a tremendous job at the helm of this operation: with thirty in one house, organization is key. There is a schedule for cooking duty and cleanup crew, and everyone was assigned a sleeping-spot before we arrived. A pullout couch in the basement was designated for Sean and me, but last night we dragged our mattress off of the uncomfortable frame and laid it out on the pool deck. We crashed quickly, exhausted from a long sunburnt day of swimming and reading and bocce on the beach. Our eyelids fell closed on stars that glittered like mica in the sky, while to our drifting-off ears the hush and whisper of waves on the beach fell silent.

The sunrise woke us – I love sleeping out! – and we dozed and woke and watched the sky brighten and dozed off again. Some of the uncles and cousins went surf fishing this morning, and rumor has it that someone caught a small shark. Sean has promised to take me tomorrow. I can’t wait to leap out of bed and get salty first thing

Because today was the big birthday and Sean was on dinner-duty, we spent much of the day in the kitchen making cupcakes. There was a respite in the afternoon, so we played in the water for a while and then constructed what became easily the best sandcastle I’ve had a part in for ten years. Sean built a bridge over a river and made sure to have farms for food security and huts for the peasants, while his cousin Matt built gorgeous crenellations along the exterior wall and I erected a tower for the inner keep.

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Sean’s Granny is an astonishing lady, and it is a pleasure to know her. She’s more alive at 90 than many elders are at 70, and, although I have met her only once or twice before, she has taught me essential lessons about pinochle, which is a foundational life skill. More importantly, I have her to thank for the man who has become my partner.

She and Sean have been talking for nearly an hour now. The birthday feast was laid out on the deck, and I can look down to where they’re still sitting side by side. The dishes, and now the tables and chairs, have been cleared away around them, but they still have their heads bent in, their shoulders a hair’s breadth apart, for all the world as if they haven’t yet realized that the party has burned down to the ember of their conversation. I can’t hear their voices over the waves, but their hands are talking, each gesturing in turn. It’s lovely to see, so I think I’m going to perch up here for a while longer, drinking in this sweet, warm, North Carolina night.

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