Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

A Summer’s Beach

I inherited very fragile skin from my parents. I am painted with blotches and freckles. My thin, scaly, hide does not respond well to sunshine. My beach time is best limited to cloudy days, early mornings and/or late day ex­cursions. That has, however, not deterred my love for sand between the toes, wind in the face, waves chasing my feet.

Early on a 2013 or 2014 North Carolina pilgrimage, Hazel, Rob and Justin Burke (our other son) drove down to the Outer Banks to wiggle our toes in the Atlantic at about mile marker 10.

I embarrassed Rob and Justin by coming out onto the beach with arm floaties, socks, sandals, long shorts, long sleeve shirt and zinc oxide cream on my nose to block the sun. In addition, just to aggravate the lads, I had a beach chair with umbrella attached.

As I set camp, the boys hauled off down the beach, still in sight of the mother hen, but not so close to the new rooster to be further humiliated.

Later in our honeymoon years as a knit-together family, Miss Hazel, our daughter Jenny, and youngest son Rob flew with me out of Newport News for a winter break at old Fort Myers, Florida.

Plane on the ground, luggage in hand we popped onto a bus taking us to our hotel destination: Beach on the Gulf! We were all elated to be south in winter and looking forward, with a modicum of trepidation, to this our first new-family vacation.

Hazel is such a hoot with whom to travel as she marvels at God’s handiwork right from the get-go. This time the mother person beat me out with embarrassing the kids who shrank down into their seats when Hazel caught sight of her first coconut palm and went ballistic with glee: “Look everybody, there are real coconuts on these trees.”

It was a grand trip and the two younger travelers did an amazing job of tolerating a new stepfather.

As luck would have it, Florida was in the midst of an unusually cold winter; too cold for us to swim. So, we rented bikes. It had been a long time since we adults had pedaled anywhere, and the chilly breeze tended to gather our tendons and muscles tight.

We experienced a Laurel and Hardy moment, from which I thought we might never recover. As we returned under the hotel’s pavilion to dismount our bikes, Hazel forgot a major dynamic of locomotion. Bikes will not remain upright unless you are moving or have distended feet to the ground. Mind you we were all chilled to the bone, so much so our faces were taut. Well, Hazel rides up and stops, and in grand slow-motion-style proceeds to lay bike and rider off onto the ground. None of the rest of us were quick enough to rescue her. Actually you had to be there, we were so busy trying not to laugh at the accident we just couldn’t help her. She wasn’t hurt, except by our jocularity over her mishap. But in a few seconds she too laughed at her mistake.

While serving a hitch in the Marines I told an old salt of a sergeant major about my love for the ocean, for the beach. He said, “Well, private, one of the loveliest beaches in North America is just over your shoulder.” My eyes must have sent him a message my mouth was too timid to speak. He continued, “Here, let me write you a pass and you can go out there.”

Uncle Sam owned a spot on the eastern Atlantic shore, which is a pristine haven for beach lovers. Of course there were times when the nearby artillery range kept one in a low profile. It is a glorious creation of the hand of God. There are high sand dunes, along a clean shoreline.

As a chaplain’s assistant, Camp Lejeune, to a Navy lieutenant commander of Presbyterian leanings, I was introduced to the poem Footprints in the Sand.

My time in solitude among the dunes, etched it into my memory. I suspect it is a favorite of our readers. Let’s read it again:

“One night I had a dream. I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and across the skies flashed scenes from my life. In each scene I noticed two sets of foot­prints in the sand. One was mine, and one was the Lord’s. When the last scene of my life appeared before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand, and to my surprise, I noticed that many times along the path of my life there was only one set of footprints. And I noticed that it was at the lowest and saddest times in my life. I asked the Lord about it: ‘Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why you left my side when I needed you most.’ The Lord said: ‘My precious child, I never left you during your times of trial. Where you see only one set of footprints I was carrying you.’”

My early years, here on the Northern Neck along the rivers and bay, had whet my appetite for beaches. Being alone with God, on the beach, always returns a blessing to me.

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