“There’s a story for every corner of this place…”
Two Fingers, Jake Bugg
1404 Shepard Street, Morehead City had a true open-door policy. I mean that literally, the sliding glass door leading to the back porch was very rarely locked.
It was not uncommon for my parents to have to tiptoe around the kitchen while making coffee, careful not to wake up the kids sleeping on the sofa or in the chairs, curled under blankets and beach towels. Whatever leftovers were in the fridge would be spread across the counter, along with chips, queso and the occasional head of cauliflower. Shoes and purses would litter the living room floor, and sometimes the front porch.
Breakfast was a tradition on Shepard Street, and if Jan was in town you were treated to eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy - if that had been eaten the night before a quick walk up the street to On-a-Roll was in order.
You were allowed to ride Razor scooters inside at Shepard Street, and no matter how many times you swept the floor you would still find sand on the bottoms of your feet when you walked around barefoot. The house has two bathrooms, but all showers were taken outside. The front porch swing fits four if you really squish, and the metal chairs on the back porch are bent out of shape from the amount of people they’ve supported.
The master bedroom belonged to the kids, with two full size beds for sharing. You see, my parents didn’t know when they bought the house that one of the only bars in Morehead City would open down the street, within walking distance from our house. We slept on every available surface; draped over chairs, piled feet-to-face on sofas, curled on dog beds.
The house welcomed sunlight, peace, and mojitos. It made you happy, even when you were stuck inside on a rainy day.
I always wanted a mountain house. I was a tomboy and liked creeks and camping and turning rocks over to see what was under them. I also got blistering sunburns on every beach vacation we ever went on, so I wasn’t exactly celebrating when my mom and I accidentally bought a beach house.
That’s exactly what happened. My mom and I were in Beaufort at my cousin’s condo, and somehow we found ourselves driving down the Morehead waterfront. There was a tiny white house with a “For Sale” sign, and my mom pulled over. She walked through the house, and 10 minutes later was convincing the owner to accept her offer, and not any of the others they received that day.
If you’ve met Jan, it’s not surprising that she convinced a total stranger to accept her offer and no one else’s. Next step: tell my dad. I will always remember my mom’s first sentence to my dad that night, “Well, honey, I bought us a beach house…”
She’s a firm believer in asking for forgiveness, not permission…and she wonders where I get that from.
Now, it’s hard to imagine not having a beach house. The rock of the boat in the turning basin, the sound of seagulls on Atlantic Beach, the left-right-left turn of the handlebars when you ride your bike to Little Beach, the glint of the sun on the water, how could I have grown up without those things?
How could I believe in God without ever lying on the beach at night, sand in my hair and stars in my eyes? How could I be grateful for being alive without jumping off the Murray’s dock at 4 am, current tugging me farther and farther away? How could I know what true friendship is without waking up in the day bed with Katie, Oreo’s stuck icing-side-down to our skin, and laughing so hard about it that we’re on the floor, clutching at our sides and each other?
There’s a Leonard Cohen lyric that says, “If you don’t become the ocean you’ll be seasick every day.” I believe that. I believe the ocean taught me to be peaceful, reminded me to be happy, and showed me true beauty.
I still get blistering sunburns.
I’ve made quite a few friends at the beach, and become better friends with some friends because of the beach.
You held hands when walking to Shepard Street. If you didn’t hold hands, it’s because you were leaning on each other for support. You threw your arm over the person next to you, or hopped on someone’s back for a lift. You wrapped your arms around the waists of friends. You even rode in a trashcan if you could find someone to push you.
We laughed at Shepard Street. We laughed at each other and ourselves, freely and openly and without feeling self-conscious. We laughed at jokes and we laughed at memories, and we laughed all the way to the Morehead Convention Center, where we dropped our neighbors off to pick up a check for a million dollars.
We panicked every time Street pretended the cops were coming, and we laughed every time it wasn’t true. We even laughed when it was true, and acted nonchalant and carefree and like it was Diet Coke in those coozies.
I learned to be myself at Shepard Street. I learned to accept myself at Shepard Street. A summer of walking around in bikinis kind of forces that.
This afternoon I packed up my car, and walked out the front door like any other Sunday afternoon.
But this afternoon was different, because it’s the last time I’ll walk across that turquoise porch, down that brick pathway. Shepard Street is no longer ours to track sand into. We can’t grill shrimp on that back porch; we can’t make mojitos in that kitchen. We can’t sit on the front porch swing or take a shower outside - unless we want to get arrested.
It seems that all my memories of Shepard Street are accompanied by music, and as I walked out this afternoon those songs played in my head. Some of them took me back to boat rides or conversations, made me think of specific weekends or meals or friends that were visiting. Most of them, however, were the sounds of laughter coming from inside that house. God, am I thankful for that soundtrack.
for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
its always ourselves we find in the sea
- ee cummings