I was in my Sis’s kitchen twenty minutes or so before my nephew’s first day of 5th grade. Knowing that I’d be over to witness the event, Sis had a hot cup of strong, perfect coffee ready for me. As I take my first sips I watch as she gathers lunch items for her son’s lunchbox. She finishes by nestling a sweet note under his sandwich. I think about the days eons ago when I did the same thing for my kids.
I joke with my nephew saying, “So…what’s up with a yellow bus in the neighborhood?”
He rolls his eyes. He’s not ready for summer to end.
Truth is, I feel the same. Honestly, my entire being is still back at the beach. My toes are in the sand and the book I brought but never open is cast off to the side as I gaze out at the ocean.
Apparently, some of the kids I queried while standing less than a half hour later at the bus stop with my nephew feel the same. They aren’t ready for what seems like an abrupt end to summer. “It’s not even labor day and we are back in school,” says one youngster. There were seven or eight kids all with new backpacks, lunchboxes, and noticeably of course, new shoes, along with their parents waiting for the bus. It’s not yet 8:15 and we’re all sweating as we stand waiting with the kids. The Poodle had plopped himself down on the sidewalk and is panting too from the heat. The humidity level is already high for what will be another scorcher of a day. For one little one it would be her first time on a yellow school bus. Wearing a blue dress with pretty pink shoes she was, understandably, a very nervous kindergartener. Both mom and dad were witnessing this milestone day for their daughter. Mom carried her little pink backpack while dad did his best to reassure. It helped that her big brother would also be on the same bus.
As the kids broke off into their own circle the parents stood together and chatted about their summers. Most everyone went to a beach over the summer.
“We went to Ocracoke,” I say to one dad.
“Where is that?” he asks. I was not surprised at the question as it isn’t necessarily a hot Outer Banks destination.
So off I went only too happy to babble on for a good five minutes about our beach week in rustic Ocracoke.
“…and at one point,” I continued, ” I could look as far as the eye could see on my right and again to my left…and as God is my witness…I was the only person on the beach! I felt like I had been deposited on uninhabited island!”
“Yes, really! There are no houses or high-rises on the beach. In fact, there are no high-rises anywhere on the island. The only structure you’ll see on the beach is a small wood lifeguard stand” I replied.
“Wow, I’ll have to check that out for next year,” he said clearly interested.
Later back at the house over my second cup of coffee and a delicious banana muffin that my nephew had made the day before, I thought about our first beach evening just two weeks ago. At the time, we were dining at the Ocracoke Oyster Company, one of the larger restaurants on the island. As we sipped on wine, Sis and I had our wheels seriously turning and our heads high in the clouds about ditching city life for Ocracoke Island living.
“Hmm. We’d add five to the population of roughly 591, eight if you count the pets,” I say wistfully. “But where would we shop? I don’t even see a real grocery store around. I mean, there is an elementary school and at least one church but I don’t see any non-tourist stores here.”
At that moment our young server comes with our appetizers. Oysters, calamari, and a basket of onion rings. Without a pause I begin peppering her with questions (something I’m more bold at doing now that I am in my 60’s). She is happy to answer our questions as she refills our water glasses. Coming from New York, she answered a help-wanted ad for Ocracoke and left on the spot. She’s been living on the island for most of the summer. She’s not sure of her future plans but she’s having a blast so far.
Sis and I marvel at her fearlessness. Oh to be young again….
“So, where on earth do you shop for stuff?” I ask. “I mean, it’s not like you can order from Amazon all the way out here.”
“Actually, I order stuff all the time from Amazon,” she replied.
I asked another person, an older guy, who has lived on the island for twenty years. He confirmed that he gets most of what he needs from Amazon. He even joked that being a Prime member doesn’t help the Ocracokers much as purchases obviously don’t arrive next day. I imagine a UPS truck on the ferry and think that must be one uberly cool route for that driver.
But here’s the thing: I’m not sure about my Sis but after four days on the island, as charming as it was, my island-living dreams lessened considerably. I asked any local that would spare two minutes how they liked living year-round on tiny Ocracoke. While most folks were very upbeat it was unanimous that winters were particularly brutal. “It takes a special someone to like our winters,” said one. “Winters are downright dead with nothing to do,” said another. One spirited woman that worked in a tiny gallery summed-up what most people said: “It’s freaking bleak here in the winter plus, I’d be as big as a barn eating non-stop and watching Netflix 24-7.” She added that she leaves the island every winter spending a month or two away, traveling to exotic locales. Last year it was Thailand. This year it will be somewhere in Europe.
Though we enjoyed, unexpectedly, an Italian white wine from Venice during one of our nights, I start to dwell on the remoteness of Ocracoke island living not to mention the memory of that terrifying lightening and thunder storm which sounded to me as if the world was coming to an end.
Ocracoke has its unpleasant side then. Dramatic weather, bitterly cold winters, dreary, depressing, and dead for months on end. Ah…Reality bites. My romantic bubble has burst. Sigh.
So yeah…realistically, I don’t have the luxury of the peripatetic life of a twenty-year-old and truthfully, even when I was that age I didn’t live free and footloose. My heart says one thing…my head says another. And yes, often –admittedly, perhaps too often—my head wins.
Though I am not ready for the proverbial rocking chair just yet, as boring as it may sound, my head now is all about quick access to a good hospital, preferably by car or ambulance and not by helicopter. And I need the fun of a zoo, lots of museums and the promise of attending concerts, cultural events, wine tastings, and so much more. Plus, I like touching and feeling stuff before I buy. How would I manage without Target (weekly), REI (frequently) and Nordstrom’s (once in a blue moon)? Not to mention reliable internet access!
Yes, my head wins, for now. All is good. As I sit here with my heart at the beach I acknowledge that it will just have to be enough. At any moment I can sit back, relax, and close my eyes and…with a slow and steady breath…the ocean is right before me. I can hear the crash of waves on the shore and the gentle peeps of Sanderlings skittering about looking for food….
It will do, I think… until next time.
And there will be a next time.
There is bliss in that.