The Beach

(photo credit: the author)

One of my earliest childhood memories is a Christmas in the early 1960s. My family made a road trip to visit my grandparents who were spending the winter in Ft. Myers, Florida. When we arrived, their Airstream trailer was parked on the beach with colorful patio lights draped through the neighboring palm tree. Believe it or not, the Red Coconut RV Resort actually still has RV spots on the beach beneath the palm trees all these years later as it has since 1920. I have pressed my memory as hard as possible several time trying to remember more details, but that is as much as comes back into focus.

Red Coconut RV Park - Photo Credit:

Growing up, we made several more trips down to visit them when they made the traditional migration of the blue hair. Eventually, they began settling on a spot across the road inside the Red Coconut RV Resort's main campground. I can still remember being in complete awe watching the manager, moving patron's travel trailers with his antique tractor to their spot within the RV park. My granddad and my dad would often get up early and walk the beach and come back displaying gorgeous conch shells. Granddad had taken up the traditional sport of the migratory blue hair, shuffleboard, and he was always eager to take us along to teach us this sport. Other shuffleboard players would grumble about the small kids being on the court, and he would tell them they could "pound sand." One related memory, Granddad took his shuffleboard stick and harvested a coconut out of the palm tree next to his Airstream, which I thought was an amazing feat. But then he took an electric drill, bored a hole in the coconut, and gave us both a drink of coconut milk - crazy!

Granddad had a boat stored nearby, and on one trip he took me with them on a fishing trip. As a small kid, I thought it was amazing to see a huge forklift go into this huge warehouse and come out carrying a boat and then put it in the water for us. The most vivid memory of the fishing trip was that under the covered bow was a stack of orange square life jackets like the one tied around me. The stack of life jackets made a great place to crawl into, curl up, and take a nap out of the sun.

So maybe we can blame  it on my granddad for planting this fascination with the beach and the ocean in my soul. But it seems so deeply anchored I have to believe it goes much deeper. I can feel all the restlessness in my being settle when I am walking the beach or wading in the surf. The cares of the day, the worries of life, they all seem to melt away and a feeling of peace floods over me. Every time I experience this feeling of peace, I imagine this must be a small glimpse of what heaven will be like.

Apparently, my fascination with the beach did not skip a generation. After our family settled in South Georgia, I fondly remember several trips with my family in a Midas mini motorhome to Panacea, FL and Alligator Point. On our first trip, we arrived to find a KOA under construction at Alligator Point. The main office building was only partially completed, but the owner allowed us a spot bordering Alligator DR facing the Gulf of Mexico. While it was not on the beach, we could sit in the cab or in the booth dining table of my dad's RV and look out across the two lane road onto the Gulf. In the 1970's, you could cross the road, climb down the huge rocks that protect the roadway from high tides and walk on the beach.

On one of these trips, my dad was fishing from the beach and caught a saltwater catfish. He advised us that it was not good eating as the freshwater catfish that we were familiar. He tossed it up on the huge rocks and told us to leave it alone. But as a 10 year old boy, I was soon stomping the catfish with by dingo cowboy boots. At some point the fish rolled onto its side and one of its barbs went through the side of my foot. I screamed bloody murder. My dad ended up carrying me back to our RV, and our trip was promptly cancelled. I remember him telling me if I was not hurting so badly he would beat me with a belt. A barrage of painful shots in my foot followed at our local medical clinic. Lesson learned.

One of the more pleasant lasting memories of our trips to Panacea and Alligator Point was the Oaks restaurant. Every meal, they brought out a little boat filled with crackers and garlic butter which I thought was the best appetizer in the world.
The Oaks Restaurant, Motel, and Shopping Center
Photo credit:

I still remember the first year,I was allowed to go to the beach on my own. It was my junior year in high school. Two friends and I loaded up early one morning in my 1974 Chevrolet El Camino and headed to Panama City Beach, FL. It was one a perfect trip. None of us had the money for a hotel room, so we got up before the crack of dawn and drove down for the day. I can remember tons of details from the trip. At one point we were approaching a U-haul pulling a large boat. The trailer ball broke on the truck and the tongue of the boat trailer hit the road producing a shower of sparks. The trailer violently darted left and right suspended only by the safety chains as the driver slowed and pulled off the roadway. We stopped in a rest stop and a couple was fast asleep in a Corvette. It did not look like the most comfortable way to sleep. But finally, we reached Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach, and we were cruising the beach. We had overlooked the fact that this portion of Florida was an hour behind us in the Central Time Zone, so we were cruising along Thomas Drive by ourselves. By the time the Sun set that day, I did not want to leave. Since then, I have experienced that same sad sickening feeling every time I have left the beach to return home.

Many years later, my family made the journey to visit my granddad in Melbourne, Florida one Easter weekend. He was in the closing stages of a long hard fight with prostrate cancer. But he had insisted that he be allowed to make his traditional migration to Florida for the winter.  Hospice was gracious and coordinated between their organization in Indiana where he lived and their sister organization in Melbourne. My dad had driven him and his trailer to Melbourne, then flown home and drove his own trailer down. My daughter was still in diapers but walking, and I knew this would probably be his last chance for him to see his great-granddaughter. During the trip, my dad took us out to the beach. It was chilly so we were all wearing jackets, but the thrill of introducing my daughter to the beach was a memorable one.

One of my fondest memories is the first time I took my daughter for a weekend at the beach. With the sands of Alligator Beach all but completely washed away from being battered by several hurricanes, we had begun visiting Mexico Beach, Florida - a gorgeous and quiet little fishing town situated between Panama City and Port St. Joe. Her fascination with the sand, the sound of the surf, and picking up seashells told me that she too felt the peace, joy, and tranquility that the beach and the ocean brought to my soul.

The Gulf of Mexico - Mexico Beach, FL (photo credit: the author)

Every time I stand at the surf's edge and look out at the massive Gulf of Mexico, the white sandy beaches, the seagulls, cranes, and pelicans, I marvel at the beauty and the hands that created it all. I can hear a couple of scriptures:

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand
when I awake, I am still with you.
- Psalms 139:17-18

(photo credit: the author)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:25-27

Sunset - Mexico Beach, FL (photo credit: the author)

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