Friday, February 3, 2012

Washed Ashore

Where are you from originally? It's such an easy question, such a common conversation opener. And my usual answer is to wink, smile and ask, "How long have you got?"
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

I don't mean to avoid the question, so to prove it I quickly launch into the abbreviated version of the long story of all the places I've lived. Some of the places sound exotic but aren't; some of them sound dull and are; some of them sound exotic and are. What's hard for me to pin down where my home town is. I've left every place I've ever lived, sometimes purposefully. I think of home towns as being the place where you are familiar with the streets and some of the people still there know you. There aren't many places like that for me. There's certainly no one place that I think of as home other than where I live now, so I've had to redefine what home town means for me.

The place where I spent my childhood was not a place where my family had any roots but it was a place I loved. I think the closest thing to my home town is something like the birds' definition. I have wandered around a long time but like migrating birds, there's a place I go back to. It's Florida, specifically the Gulf Coast below Tampa. That's where we spent our best vacations. That's where I keep returning to.

It seems so trite to love Florida vacations but I don't go there for fantasy theme parks or for golf. I go there for wildlife photography and to dig through the beaches and side roads for evidence of "old Florida," the Florida I knew. Every once in a while, I find it in details that may escape others.

So while we were on our recent vacation, I turned down suggestions to do things like go to art museums. I was focused on my goal to capture images of birds and other wildlife like Fred the Alligator. My parents are gone. My brothers and sisters are scattered. I never knew my cousins. My urge for home and family takes a different form than it does for other people so I go where I felt at home a long time ago and take pictures of the birds who are like family. It's hard to explain to people who do have close family and some identifiable home town that I have to go to Sanibel Island to the wildlife sanctuary. Have to, like a migrating bird. It's a magnetic pull, a force of nature.
Blue Heron, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve
Sanibel Island, Florida

Recognizing this, years ago when I visited Sanibel I had the opportunity to buy a brick. You may have heard of other "buy a brick" fundraisers. You donate money to a museum or church or ballpark and they laser-cut your name in a brick and place it in the walkway. My brick is at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel.

When I was a little kid, my mother loved Perry Mason. So we all watched Raymond Burr play Perry Mason. When Perry Mason was no longer a regular TV series, we watched Raymond Burr in Ironsides. If Raymond Burr was in it, we watched it, even in his role as the bad guy in Rear Window. As it turns out, I found out a few more things about Raymond Burr.

A friend of a friend drove him around for a USO show when he was in the Army. He said he was a really nice guy. Raymond Burr's mother played keyboards for the churches on Sundays in the city where I live now and apparently played keyboards during the week for less reputable establishments there too. Even better, Raymond Burr loved Sanibel Island and seashells. It is due largely to his efforts, although certainly not solely to his efforts, that the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum exists at all. In the entryway there is a monument there to Raymond Burr. And just to the left of it, there is my brick.

I took a picture of it this time. It made me think about monuments and permanence in general. What do we leave behind? That's been a recurring theme in my vacation. I look for vestiges of old Florida. I ask "old timers" if they remember what I remember. They are older than I am and yet my memories pre-date theirs.

"I've only been here 32 years," they shake their heads, disappointed that it was not longer. My memories are from 50 years ago. I remember people who are gone, a greatly changed landscape, businesses long out of business, a way of life that no longer exists. But when I go to the shell museum, I know Raymond Burr knew what I knew. That little brick seems like a lasting monument but I'm not fooled. It rides each day upon the sand of a sandbar island, created by a chance connection of currents and river. It could so easily wash away. It means something only to me.

While on Sanibel, I walked from the sea grape and palmetto lined road through the soft, then hardening sand to the turquoise waves of the Gulf. I remembered feeling so connected to spirit some 50 years ago, so clearly, so transforming. I was steps away from where that happened and stepped into the frothy wash of waves, feet sinking slowly into the sand and shells. I prayed for my husband, my friends, my family, my life, my home, my pets, my job, my memories, my future and my past. In that moment, I felt perfectly fine being selfish and praying for my people, my things. As the waves washed over my feet and I felt myself sinking into the beach, I knew that no brick was as important as having this place to come back to or as having those people to pray for. The connections to those we love are not the shells and stones that wash up on our shores. They are the beaches themselves, ever changing and yet enduring. They are the legacy we leave behind, our tarot 10 of Pentacles, the completion of manifestation.

When I pick up seashells, I bring a little of myself home with me. That's where I'm from, originally.

Best wishes.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this so much, Marcia! We have some things on common. For one, my mother also loves Raymond Burr. For another, I have also lived in several places (none of them exotic), and have often puzzled over what I might consider my "home town." I usually use the town I was born in, where I lived the first 18 years of my life. But truthfully, I have never felt a strong emotional attachment to the place.

    I have visited Sanibel only once, but from just that one experience, I can identify with your feelings about it, and about the shore in general. I'm also very much drawn to mountains (like the Blue Ridge, not the Rockies). I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for about 25 years.

    Sorry to go on and on! You can see that your post struck a chord, resonated, and all that good stuff. Thank you!