When I was very small, probably about four, Grannie had a pop-up book that I liked to look through. One of the pages showed the ocean, with waves rising up from the book. After reading this book one day, I declared my utter skepticism to Nannie, my other grandmother. “It doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing big enough to splash around and cause those waves that big in that much water,” said I. “I’m young, but I’m not stupid.”
Something about this declaration horrified my grandparents so much that, just a few days later (as I remember it) I was sitting on a phone book in the front seat of their car, confused about why I was wearing a towel and a swim suit. I remember the car ride being long, but even then I was used to 2+ hour treks from Maryland down to Richmond, so it wasn’t that bad.
I don’t remember anything about parking the car, but we must have. I’m equally certain there was an ordeal of schlepping chairs, a cooler, brand new sand toys, but that didn’t make an impression either. What I remember is getting to a stretch of sand packed with people (I think we went to Virginia Beach), and there, huge and crashing to shore before me, the ocean.
Nannie and Pappa are travelers. They got their start as salesmen and are chock full of fascinating stories about being on the road – negotiating cut-rate deals with motels and diners, driving cars with busted transmissions, dealing with drunks and bums in their crew. They’re both well over seventy and they don’t flinch at the thought of hopping in the car and hauling from Richmond to Madison. And if you’re in the car with them when they do it, you’ll hear all about what it was like before that highway was there, and how things were as the built it, and what’s different now since the last time they went up it. They’ve been practically everywhere in the lower 48, and if they think Virginia is the best place to have settled, they’re still awfully pleased with most everywhere else.
That matters because it explains why, despite the fact that neither of them can swim and they’re both afraid of water, they took it as a moral imperative to show me the ocean. They’re travelers. Knowing places is what they do. They were not going to let their granddaughter remain so sheltered that she would declare to anybody listening that the ocean was a fiction perpetrated on incautious young folk.
I know they packed sand toys because that’s what they’d expected me to do all day – build sand castles and watch the water. We waded out to the shore so the ocean and I could get acquainted, then back to the towels and chairs for a day spent safely away from the frightening water. I wasn’t having it. I didn’t know how it worked, but there was a huge body of water with waves. Something caused them, and that was super neat.
One way or another, I discovered that instead of going to the bathroom to pee, we’d wade out into the water. My bladder that day was the faultiest ever, and about every five minutes, I had to pee again. Nannie and Pappa caught on, but they were good sports.
That was a trip definitely meant to teach a lesson. I think they meant for me to learn that the world was bigger and more awesome than I could expect to make sense with my four years of experience. Instead, I learned that sometimes, when you call bullshit on the unbelievable, you get a really awesome surprise.