by Heather Woolery
Growing up, there never seemed to be a superfluous amount of money. Dad worked from seven until five and mom worked the swing shift; and yet, on Saturdays dad was trying to jimmy-rig fix the lawn mower, and on Sundays mom was clipping coupons and highlighting deals. Most of my clothes were second hand; hand-me-downs from my mom’s friends or knitted by my Oma. The majority of my toys were made-up in our half-acre backyard. Little be known to me, I was completely and youthfully oblivious that we were poor. Money held little value until I was about ten, and even then I wasn’t fully aware of my parents’ financial quibbles. In all honesty, I thought we were rich; one of the better off families in our church and community, simply because we were always going somewhere.
Growing up in Nampa, Idaho meant we were exactly eight hours away from Cannon Beach, Oregon. So many random, last minute weekends were spent in sunshine, rain, and even snow a couple times, while exploring this magical place. A place, for the longest time, I thought belonged to me.
It was an escape, an extension of my backyard that spread out further than my eyes could see. My youthful soul had been salted and captivated, and I was forever to be in love with the Northwest Coast.It was an escape, an extension of my backyard that spread out further than my eyes could see. My youthful soul had been salted and captivated, and I was forever to be in love with the Northwest Coast. I’d screech and squall running up and down the beach...soft, cold sand squishing between piggy toes, flapping my arms, flying alongside the seagulls. We’d soar in unison and they considered me one of their own - we were one. No matter the weather or the time of year, the ocean, sand, and wind were constant. Always there.
With early morning peeping eyes, and snuggled in worn blankets, we would go down to the tide pools, which were peaceful and as still as ice on the surface. There was magic to be had here. Once you pushed your finger through the forcefield of still, pooled water, a bursting of color and life bled everywhere. Fuchsia and tangerine-colored starfish clung to seaweed laden rocks. Tiny minnow-like fish darted to and fro, as if they were playing Chicken or Double Dog Dare with one another as they saw your hand encroaching upon them. Dozens of hermit crabs dodged and swayed as if they were drunken alley cats. Dad always hated these little creatures, and it didn’t take long before I caught on that catching a crab meant I could torment and tease him mercilessly with pure joy. My giggles being carried in the wind as my dad ran away with a laugh masking his scream. I did this often.
With early morning peeping eyes, and snuggled in worn blankets, we would go down to the tide pools, which were peaceful and as still as ice on the surface. There was magic to be had here.Flying kites was always a favorite. Though dollar store kites never seemed to last more than an afternoon, I would chase it’s tale as it skitted across the sand while Dad untangled the mess I had made out of the line.
Once Dad got it into the air, he would give and take the line, walking slowly along the beach, following the wind. The kite in it's grandeur of yellow and orange and red would tumble and flip in the air. It's tale whipping behind it, so alive and full of joy to be airborne. This is usually where Dad stayed. Giving and taking with generosity to keep this kite afloat. He had endless patience with the little kite. Endless patience with me.
There were always so many sticks, a brigade, as if the ocean had birthed matchbox after matchbox overnight and scattered them along the shore for me to scoop up. I’d collect piles. There were the small driftwood logs, the skinny branches, the tiny twigs - all of which held value and importance. Stick huts against the cliffside and pretend bonfires that went a-blazing in my mind, casting swirls of glittery smoke up into the heavens. They would be walking sticks in my epic long hikes, and pencils to leave my marks of hearts, stars, and smiley faces. And if the sand were lucky, I’d grace it with my name, H-e-a-t-h-e-r. I tried to let the sand know how much I adored it. I appreciated its constant giving.
And if the sand were lucky, I’d grace it with my name, H-e-a-t-h-e-r. I tried to let the sand know how much I adored it. I appreciated its constant giving.I would build multiple sand castles that I would adorn with broken clam and mussel shells. I also tried to figure out how high could I make it before it would come crumbling down...two-bucket layers, three. Flags made of smaller twigs and leaves topped the magnificence I had created. I’d scoop a moat around it to protect it from the crocodiles and sharks that swam in the Pacific Ocean, then fill my bucket dozens of times bringing each bucket back to fill the moat. Yet the water always sank into the sand as it’s grand finale act of mystery to me.
Mom was a beachcomber, so true to her soul's likeness. She would search up and down, surpassing even full sand dollars or mussels to pick up smaller shells that had been sanded down to small, almost pebble-like gems. Whites, oranges, some pinks and blues, and rarely green. She’d open up her hand to me like a treasure chest of the hidden riches from Atlantis. Mom was this way with people too. She would always search for their hidden, simple beauty, for their gifts, for what made them rare and unique. This is what she glorified and pulled out of people, like those shells hidden in the sand that she pulled into the light. I remember looking at my mom, as she was always four feet ahead of me, her mind in her own place with a smile that transcended her face, into the world and right onto me. She was so glamorous; at six feet tall she towered above me with waist-length curly brown hair against her olive skin. She would periodically look back at me with her beautiful, deep eyes to make sure I hadn’t flown off with the band of begging seagulls that had been following us. It was a look of radiating hazels and chocolate that still echoes through my mind on any given day when the thought of her comes wandering through it.
Mom was this way with people too. She would always search for their hidden, simple beauty, for their gifts, for what made them rare and unique. This is what she glorified and pulled out of people, like those shells hidden in the sand that she pulled into the light.Some trips we would come home with buckets brimming, all stuffed in the back of my folks' white Subaru wagon. Other trips there were only a couple of Ziploc bags, but nothing more. No matter the quantity of goodies we returned with, opening up the buckets and baggies to clean them would release an odor of brine and rotting seaweed - an instant aphrodisiac that would bring waves curling and crashing upon my toes as they stood dug into the shag carpet of our living room. We would wash each shell, rock, and other treasured oddity in a cool water bath removing the seaweed, saltwater and sand. It was my job to dry them off. I would line each treasure up on a dingy dishtowel to dry and count each one. Arranging them from smallest to biggest, or in a gradient of colors.
Each piece held a story within itself, a story that would never be told to me. It would whisper in the night with sounds of muted waves and frantic seagulls, but nothing more. It was a story that had become a secret only the treasure knew fully, and one that would never be told again. And I got to be the one to hold it.
Standing at the edge where the ocean met the sand, my ghostly hair would fill with salt as it whipped across my face...It was ultimate freedom.Standing at the edge where the ocean met the sand, my ghostly hair would fill with salt as it whipped across my face. Bearish palms and outstretched arms swirled in circles with the rhythm of the wind. It was ultimate freedom. I would look out and swear I could see China. I was an explorer with hawk eye vision. When I was back at home, I would close my eyes and when I’d hear a seagull I would swear to my folks that I could hear the ocean. I was an explorer with impeccable hearing. No amount of money could have bought those moments. I was the richest child to have lived in those moments, with my soul salted and captivated by all it had been submersed in.