It was a little after 7:30 in the evening when we all gathered down on the beach. Jon and Ron were busy digging a hole in the sand near where the waves were washing gently up the steep inclines so common on the Outer Banks. Three other families, several football fields up the beach had the same idea. Soon, the flames were making crackling sounds as they wrapped around the bone dry wood I had bought earlier in the day from the one armed man at the Shell station who let me name my own price since he couldn’t help me load it in the back of my car. I gave him a five dollar bill. “If you’re happy, I’m happy”, he said.
Soon the little ones came down to see the fire, their eyes wide with expectation. By the time we started roasting marshmallows for the s’mores the fire was a blaze, sending strange shadows across the sand. It was getting dark and now the fire was lighting up faces all around. There was a Kryptonite sighting and all the attendant squealing fun as Bennett screamed out his warning.
I sat quiet and still taking in the moment, the chocolate and marshmallow smeared faces of the children, the tanned face of my daughter as she stared at her fiancé, my son sitting next to his mother deep in some conversation. I watched my two sisters and their husbands, my nieces smiling at their children with Matt hovering with his camera taking thoughtful pictures that we will point to years later as we ask, “Do you remember that night?”
On this most perfect of nights, I miss my Mom. This was the sort of thing that she lived for, family all together having fun. She would have loved it. I also thought of my Dad who couldn’t make this trip with us. He would have loved it too.
As the fire died down, we walked down to the water’s edge and stomped around in the wet sand, and like magic, tiny specks of light appeared around our feet. Noctiluca, it’s called, a terrible name for something so romantic. It was nice to feel something like wonder at age 55. It was at this moment, watching my family dancing on the beach, pawing at the sand and pointing at what looked like a miracle that it occurred to me that I will be doing this for the rest of my life. I will be making a trip to the beach with my wildly boisterous family every two years until the day that I, like Dad can’t make the trip…because this is what families do. I will watch the little ones grow to become teenagers, replaced by little ones of my own someday. Someday, my grandchildren will be old enough to carry my chair and cooler down to the beach for me. The family will grow and get younger, louder and more difficult to cram into one house, but we will always do it, because to miss out on the magic of a fire on the beach isn’t worth the risk.