I got my love of the beach from my mother. It’s where she was happiest, most relaxed. The same is true for me. I can be tied in knots with anxiety and stress, but when my toes hit the sand, it melts away. When I was a kid, we went to a beach – somewhere – every summer. We also spent most Thanksgiving vacations there. Mom’s job required her to go to annual sales meetings, usually in April or May. Many of them were at beautiful beach resorts like Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Sanibel Island or Naples, Florida. I was lucky enough to tag along on several of those trips during my college years. I spent the mornings sunning by myself while Mom attended boring sales meetings, and then we relished her free afternoons shelling, bird watching, and seeing the sights together.
After I got married, Mom and I still carved out time for girls’ trips to the beach. We would walk for hours searching for sharks’ teeth and shells, lunch on the balcony of our hotel early in the afternoon, then head back to the beach to walk the opposite way from however we’d walked that morning. In the evenings we would take our time, having two hour dinners, savoring my favorite food, crab legs, or waiting in line for an hour to get into our favorite restaurant, The Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach. The delicious food and fellowship together was so worth the wait!
As we walked the sands and savored those meals together, Mom and I would talk about anything and everything. I got to know her more on those trips than at any other time in life. It was just us, and I loved that! I am so very grateful for all of the time we spent together in the thirty-six years I had her here. Mom was just shy of her 62nd birthday when she died of a heart attack following rotator cuff surgery.
Anyone who knew my mom well has probably heard her say she hoped to be reincarnated as a seagull. Since her passing, I have spent every one of her November 24th birthdays on a beach somewhere … sometimes on the sands of South Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where we spent so much time together; sometimes on the unspoiled shores of the Outer Banks; sometimes on the white sands of Destin or by the turquoise waters of Boca Grande, Watercolor Beach, or Anna Maria Island, Florida.
I want to be there because the beach is where I feel closest to Mom. Though I am filled with a mixture of sweet memories and sadness there, the former far outweighs the latter. Of course, as I sit in the sun reading, which is another love I get from her, walk on the sand searching for shells, or cool off in the waves, my eyes are always scanning the beach and the sky for seagulls.
Since she passed, I’ve had many seagull visitations and once or twice I’ve brought home the odd feather I found on the beach. On Monday, November 22, 2017, as I started out on a four mile walk, I said to myself, like a prayer, “Mama, I miss you soooo much. If you are here and you can see me, give me a sign.” Almost immediately, I came upon the largest seagull feather I’ve ever found. Fifteen feet later, another. And so on, as you can see in the photo. With tears in my eyes, I picked up a dozen before I said, “Okay, mom. I get it! You’re here!!” I never found another feather the rest of the week-long trip.
While this experience with the feathers was one of the more moving I’ve had, it wasn’t the strangest. On November 24th, 2008, I was feeling especially down. I was in Placida, Florida visiting with my favorite aunt, Willa. Florida trips with her had taken some of the sting out of not having my mom there, but that day Willa was not feeling well and wanted to just sleep in. Darryl was out fishing with my uncle, John, so I headed to Boca Grande to sit on the beach by myself.
I had been there only minutes before I noticed a seagull inching closer and closer to my chair. Finally, it was only a few feet away from me. I was shocked when I took a close look. Sticking out of her left breast was some sort of dart. (Did I mention that my mother died of a heart attack and wanted to be reincarnated as a sea gull?) The gull hung around me all day that day. She also showed up the next two days to hang out near my chair. I had been missing my mom so much, aching for her presence. This visitation comforted me. I felt her there with me in my memories and my heart. If this was only a coincidence, it sure was a happy one.
I’ve had gull visitations now from the beaches of Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada to the southern Gulf of Florida. One day at Myrtle Beach a beautiful white gull continually flew and seemed to hover over my head as I read on the beach. Another perched on a wall at the foot of my chaise by the pool all day in Salvo, North Carolina. I’ve even had visitations in the parking lot of Kmart and Target a time or two!
About a year and a half ago, our best friends moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Though we are sad to have them farther away from us, the pain is eased a little by the fact that their new house on James Island is ten minutes from the sands of Folly Beach. This year we got to spend our Thanksgiving vacation week with them, getting to know the area. While The Battery and Rainbow Row turn some people on, it was the wide beaches of Folly that stole my heart. We were blessed with great weather. We spent our days on the beach and our nights eating fresh seafood and catching up with our friends and their children, who are like our surrogate kids. Before we left, a plan was made to spend New Year’s Eve and Day together, celebrating a late Christmas, since that’s the soonest we could all be together.
This morning, the first day of 2021, I got up, got dressed, and headed for the beach while our friends were off playing Pickle Ball. The skies were overcast and gray as I topped the dunes and headed onto the beach. I was thinking about my mom and how much I missed her and how much she would have loved Folly Beach. I looked left first towards the Folly pier, which is being rebuilt, then right. I could not believe my eyes. The beach was filled with seagulls! More than I have ever seen in one place! And they weren’t skittish at all and let me walk among them for fifteen minutes, while I snapped picture after picture.
I felt my heart lighten as I clicked away, catching sitting, standing, wading, flying, and laughing gulls. I think my mom had the right idea, I thought. What could be better than hanging out at the beach all day, watching the waves break on the sand, eating the freshest seafood you can get, and riding thermals in the air?