I come from an enchanted island and thus, had an enchanting childhood. Surrounded by the Atlantic and kept from the mainland only by a wildlife refuge and a pair of bridges, it was a place I clamored to escape as a teenager. But now, with my rearview in focus, I see the dream-world I grew up in.
Come. Sit with me … you in your rocking chair and I in mine, and I will tell you of these dreams over a tall glass of lemonade. Close your eyes. Drink the heat. A symphony of crickets and frogs will serenade, and these stories of oceans and skies will rest between us like the glistening air on your skin.
I am five. Maybe six. Sunbeams stream through a canopy of oaks kissing everything golden. My bony legs step lightly on the dusty path, fighting the urge to run. I don’t like getting dirt in my shoes. The dock is behind me and the red barn as tall as the pines surrounding just ahead. I look down at my left elbow and run my fingers gently over a little brown birthmark. It reminds me of her, and her name. Again I fight the urge to run. I know she is waiting.
Big, and black, and beautiful, with a lap you could get lost in, Bertha is there just like she always is with my special plate. The same plate she always sets aside just for me. Extra cornbread. She knows it’s my favorite. I eat every crumb. There in the bigness, and safety, of her lap.
I am eleven. Leah is my best friend because we both love to paint. Easy as that. Today we decide to sneak through the fence and explore under the bridge. The woods don’t seem as treacherous now that we’re eleven. Tiny drops of sweat trickle down the middle of my back. Finally we make it to the bridge and the water passes in and out over our toes.
All afternoon we pace up and down the shore, combing the broken oysters for jewels. We laugh and talk the way only eleven-year-old girls can. The world speeds by in cars overhead and time wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our stomachs. Dinner will be ready soon, so with sun-pinkened noses we head for home. Running fast, holding tight to my treasures, this has been the best day of the summer. I have a jar full of shark teeth and mermaid fingernails.
I am twenty-one. Standing beside my dad. We’re on Bertha’s island again – but she’s not here anymore. I secretly wish for her cornbread. Behind us streams the chatter and laughter from the barn. This place is a novelty to them, the tourists. An island lost in time. But for us, it’s the essence of our home.
Flaming orange, the sun shoots blazing pink heat across the sky as it disappears into the sea. Seagulls fly overhead and a pair of dolphin swim lazily in the Sound. Fiddler crabs scurry underneath a warped dock and to our left an oak tree dripping with Spanish Moss reaches her bony fingers out over the marsh.
“This is what you’ll miss when you’re gone,” he finally says.
He was right.