A woman walks along the beach in Westport Light State Park in Washington State, USA.

The beach. It’s in my genes. I don’t get there as often as I’d like, but when I do, I feel like I’ve come home. Family stories of the beach I’ve heard my entire life were sometimes from decades before my birth, yet I could easily imagine them, as I knew the feel of the wind in my face, the salty, slightly fishy smell, and the sounds of the surf and noisy gulls. Plus, we’ve had some great storytellers, including my mom, to make those old tales real.

Mom’s grandparents lived part-time on the beach in Oregon, so as a child, she spent a great deal of time there, along with her brother and sister. Though I never met her grandparents Nels & Ida, I heard hilarious stories of these Swedish immigrants and their follies, like the time Grandpa was getting pretty mad because he couldn’t get very far from the dock in the rowboat and it turned out they were still tied up!

I’ve rarely lived more than a couple of hours from the beach. One of my earliest memories is of camping at the beach and collecting tiny crabs. When I was a kid, Mom would drive us and a carload of friends or relatives to the beach several times a year. Sometimes, we would build a fire on the beach, but mostly, we walked and picked up rocks and shells. If it was nice, we took off our shoes and felt the warm sand between our toes. My hair would be a tangled mess from the wind and I would instantly fall asleep on the car ride home.

When I was grown, Mom still organized trips to the beach, which sometimes entailed the use of multiple cars. Whenever family came to visit from out of state, she took them there. She didn’t favor the touristy areas. She preferred the lonelier spots, as do I. Some of her guests couldn’t fathom what a noisy, windy, lonely, cloudy place could hold to the popular beaches in sunny climes or even the touristy ones here, but she knew.

In Mom’s later years, I began to see how, when she sat on a log, letting the wind blow her hair and her cares away, she seemed more relaxed than at any other place. I began to identify her with the beach.

I’ve been thinking about Mom a lot lately, as it would have been her 98th birthday a few days ago. That’s probably why I’ve been thinking about the beach. It’s a healing place for us. It’s where she wanted to go after my dad’s long battle with cancer ended. It’s where we said goodbye to my sister Vicki, sprinkling some of her ashes in the surf. It’s where I went not long after Mom herself died, letting the wind wash over me.

I think I will be planning another outing to the beach before long. We used to go at least once in the winter as well as the typical times of year. As Mom would have said, it’s about high time!


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