Counting down to the beach

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knox

I am a woman who thrives on anticipation. I love having something fun on the calendar. My “Calendar Countdown” app has nothing to do with remembering and everything to do with expectation.

When I added Family Beach Trip to the countdown on July l8, 2019, and sent the message out to the Beach Family group, it said “361 days to go!” It was funny. It was a long time to wait, but we were just home from the 2019 trip, and we were happy, satiated and content with another wonderful year in the memory books.

As the countdown clicked on through the months, I would often look at it, just to get that deep sigh of calm, that tickle of anticipation. Our 2020 beach trip was on the books and all was right with the world.

Then, all wasn’t right. Our worlds changed. Our fear levels skyrocketed. The absolute need to take care of ourselves, our family and our community became the measuring stick against which all things were determined.

The app was oblivious and just kept counting down. “103 days to go” the app with the cute little flip-flop icon declared on March 23 as I read the news that the beach was open, but parking, restrooms, the pier and public facilities were closed.

On April 8, “87 days to go” taunted the app, while the mayor and city aldermen closed the beach to all but permanent residents.

The joyful anticipation churned inside me. It wouldn’t have mattered, of course. I wasn’t going anywhere anyway, as I self-quarantined for 60 days, on doctor’s orders. Still, I needed that hope that things were going to get better, so I spared the flip-flops the fate of the other countdown apps – the cruises, the flights to Seattle, the conferences in Birmingham and Montreal. I needed my beach countdown. We all did, and we held on to our reservation whether it jeopardized our chances of getting our deposit back or not.

The powers-that-be at Holden Beach weren’t the only factors. Would any of us be ready to venture out to the beach in early July, even if it was open? Family members on the front lines nationally in Seattle and in a Tennessee hot-spot in Nashville were getting views of the reality that we weren’t seeing as strongly in Knoxville.

On April 22, as the countdown declared 73 days to go, the beach reopened, but still wasn’t allowing rental guests. On May 1, Holden Beach reopened (64 days to go). Serious family conversations ensued over the next few weeks.

My fingers hovered over the app to delete more than once. The joyful anticipation was completely overshadowed with doubt and fear. None of the decision-makers in the group are 20-somethings. The ache and desire to be together at the beach – and it’s strong in this beach family – wern’t going to get the best of our desire to have each other safe and healthy for many years to come.

Through thoughtful conversations and honesty and with revisions to the way we “always” do things – like grocery shopping in the island’s only grocery store – we have decided to go. The countdown is at 10 today, and I swear those flip-flops did a little dance.

So did my heart. I have never needed a beach trip as seriously as this one.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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