If a place can be a family member, Emerald Isle is certainly a beloved member of my tribe, or at the very least, one of my closest friends. Since I first visited with a kindergarten friend in 1970 until this summer’s week vacation with my husband and twin sons, Emerald Isle has held a spot in my heart that no other place can touch.
The beauty of the island is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been there because even when you are finished describing the deep green of the maritime forest, the lazy wave of the sea oats in the breeze and the smell of the ocean on a stormy afternoon, there is something about the atmosphere and the quality of the light that can’t be put into words. But I’m prejudiced, because the beauty I see in Emerald Isle is inexorably bound to the memories I bring with me when I go there.
I was five when my best friend brought me with her in a visit to her parent’s house on the middle of the island. Many of the lots were still vacant then, so there were few people. We played on a virtually empty beach – the only sounds were our giggles and seagulls’ squawks. We felt like the beach was ours alone – a powerful feeling for a little girl, and I carry it with me every time I step onto the sand. My own children may never have a memory of Emerald Isle that deserted, but they are growing up knowing I played on the same beach when I was child, and that I love it as much as they do.
My parents fell in love with the area as well, eventually buying a lot and building a house of their own when I was in high school. A lucky break for me, as I now had a place to bring my friends on weekends, and even in summers when I worked on the island and spent each evening walking toward the sunset on the beach. And the times our family spent together, taken for granted then, are now irreplaceable memories, a collage of poker games at the kitchen table, iced tea on the front porch and long afternoons on the sand.
My father especially loved the beach and the house we had there. He rode his bike back and forth in swerving curves up and down the little hills on the short street that led from our cottage to the beach every evening, so happy to own a little piece of the island and be able to spend so much time by the sea. When he died ten years ago, his ashes were sprinkled on the beach in a spot nearest the house, and though my parents had sold the house when they moved to Florida two years before his death, I take time on each visit to go by the house and look at the beach at that spot. As I drive away, I can’t resist checking the rearview mirror, hoping somehow to see him on his bike, gracefully wheeling back and forth on the way to the ocean.
When I went to law school, I discovered that one of the things I had in common with the best friend I made there was our love for Emerald Isle. She and I then began our own tradition of going there together, staying sometimes at her parents’ house, sometimes at mine. We went as students, then as newlyweds with our husbands, and in the most recent years as parents supervising our kids as they played together on the beach or in the sound between her family’s house and the one my husband and I now rented every year. We covered our kids with sunscreen during the day, watched sunsets over the sound in the evenings and caught up on everything in the one week we had together each year. Three years ago, we lost her to cancer as well. In my mind, the sound belongs to the two of us, just as the beach belongs to my dad. My children will never know their grandfather and they have few memories of my friend, but when we are at Emerald Isle, I can bring them back through the stories I tell on the dock at sunset or by pointing out the landmarks that spark the memories.
The tradition continues. We rent a house on the sound every year and I have brought our au pairs (foreign exchange students who assist with child care) with us on our vacations. One by one, they too have succumbed to the island’s charms. It’s pretty satisfying to hear someone from the famously gorgeous south of France say the place you love the most truly is as beautiful as you described it. The only problem: at the end of every vacation, we have to leave. Luckily, we are more than willing to keep creating new memories to live along the old ones on Emerald Isle!