Mother Ocean

(This piece was originally published in the August/September issue of Grand Strand Magazine ( and is republished/blogged here with my thanks.)

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The author’s mother (left) and a friend (who shall remain nameless), fashionably sunbathe along the South Carolina Grand Strand, circa the early 1960s.

A wise man once opined that the only two things certain in life were death and taxes.

He was wrong.

It seems clear to me that, given an imaginative CPA — and enough cash on the front end, the tax man can be bypassed. Somewhere in Hollywood, I’d wager, there’s an accountant who — for a price — can show you, on paper, with a straight face, how the Star Wars franchise lost money.

Nope, the only things certain in life — at least in mine, anyway — are death and, by the grace of God, the Atlantic Ocean.

You see, I’m a pretty lucky guy. Half-deaf and full-on stupid at times, perhaps, but lucky like you wouldn’t believe. And one of the most fortuitous turns of my life was being born in an area and to a family that allowed for and provided me the opportunity to grow up experiencing the simple beauty of the sea, the unique and peacefulness of the South Carolina coast.

My parents love the ocean. And the apples sure didn’t fall far from the apple trees. They’d take us to the beach camping with other local families back in the ’60s. All we had was a tent, and Pop would have to dig a moat around it to collect the rainwater to keep us from being flooded out should a sudden storm come up. But what a blast we would have, riding bikes or enjoying games at the arcade, swimming in the surf, hunting shells or sharks’ teeth, stomping soda cans onto the heels of our Keds tennis shoes, then chasing each other around like Frankenstein, and flying flashy new vinyl bat kites on the beach each Easter.

This continued throughout my youth as we advanced from a tent to a pop-up Apache camper. We were even some of the first to camp at Ocean Lakes as it was beginning to be developed. It’s strange given the mega-campground/resort it is today that I best remember it as a mostly wooded area with a few roads cut and just a few folks around after Labor Day. This was fortunate given that I learned to drive wheeling a homemade dune buggy out along the beach and through the surf, sometimes driving from Ocean Lakes past Surfside and Garden City to The Point and back. Nowadays that would probably get you locked up with the key thrown away—if the naturalists didn’t justifiably string you up first.

Instead. the guy who made it possible later went on to be a judge. Boy, have times changed.

And once I got old enough to legally drive, it didn’t take much to get me headed to the coast, day or night, even if just for a few hours. Whether it was hanging out at the Pavilion, or parking somewhere and sitting at Peaches Corner watching folks, or walking Ocean Boulevard, I was up for whatever, especially once I got a little older and tested my first fake ID at places like The Bowery and Mother Fletcher’s and The Afterdeck, where they “didn’t stop going ‘til the rooster starts crowing.”

Even as I grew older and it came time to move away from home, my choice was Charleston, where I quickly discovered the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. It was there I grew up a little and learned that some things don’t last forever — and shouldn’t, and that sometimes you have to let things go, even when it hurts. But sitting on that lowcountry beach, watching wave after wave roll in, I also discovered that, just like that ocean I would sit and stare out at, some things will never change.

If you let it, the sea really can go a long way toward healing pretty much whatever is ailing you physically, mentally or emotionally. If it can be helped, time spent by the sea can’t hurt. The cure for anything, it is said, is saltwater…be it sweat, tears or the sea.

I even went as far as moving to the Caribbean for a couple years, living on St. Croix, a rock in the middle of the ocean, where it was confirmed that there’s something truly magical about the sea, as proven by the fact that the frequency of heart attacks and strokes are minor “down island” when compared to rates for similar afflictions on the mainland.

It’s true. Just being near the sea makes one feel as though everything is better, that no matter what has been or is causing concern or anxiety in your life, everything really is going to be fine. Whether it’s the salt marsh air, or sea gulls and pelicans in flight, or the dramatic change of scenery and tidal flows, I don’t know. But it’s just plain fact: Being near the ocean is like night versus day.

Now, as a “pirate” nearing 60, I can’t spend enough time near the sea, and, to me, the reason why is simple. Jimmy Buffett was right: “Salt air it ain’t thin; it can stick right to your skin. And makes you feel fine. Makes you feel fine.”

Whether it was a kid flying a kite at Ocean Lakes, a teenager hanging out on Ocean Boulevard, or a semi-homesick Sandlapper on a St. Croix beach fresh off a snorkeling adventure, looking back, it seems the crash of waves or the lapping of the surf on a shore has been as much the background to my life as any music performed by any band or artist. And it’s all right here, practically in my backyard. Just as it’s always been.

Life is about two things, folks: adapting to change and holding ever dearer that which never changes, things like a mother’s love.

And Mother Ocean.

And when my time on this big, blue ball we’re all zooming along through space on runs out, don’t mourn my loss, nor dig a hole in the ground that someone has to keep up or anyone has to visit. Nope, I have a far better plan. Just send me back to nature, back to the salt marsh and tidelands and rolling waves of the South Carolina coast, back to the very waters that have meant so much to me while I was here, where there is no real death, only cycles of rebirth.

And know that I was blessed.

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