“The Joy of Reading”
This story is part of a cycle in which women play a major role
Plodging in the Pacific
I only know there came to me a sense of glad awakenings.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I kidnapped my mother-in-law one California morning and fled Los Angeles down Pacific Coast Highway 1. I didn’t know where we were going exactly, but I knew I was taking her to the beach. I had decided that what Mama needed was to dip her toes in the healing waters of the mighty Pacific.
Mama proved a willing participant in this abduction. Her spirits had been desperately low at the prospect of having a toxic soup of chemicals pumped into her on yet another sunny day. While we couldn’t speak each other’s native tongue, we had conspired to outwit her daughter, with some help from my eleven-year-old nephew Jamie, who speaks both Farsi and English.
I selected a solitary place. Mama needed nature’s peace and quiet, the plaintive cries of gulls, and the pounding of blue and white surf in her ears, not blaring traffic, yammering humans and sterile, metallic hospital noises. Jamie consulted the map. If we stuck to Pacific Coast Highway 1, he assured me, we were bound to find somewhere. And as we curved out of Newport Beach, we did. Suddenly, before us, the vast ocean glinted like a metal sculpture carving the land into a perfect crescent.
“Bah, bah,” murmured Mama. “Oh my, oh my.” The sparkling, deserted bay stretched below us. I pulled into the first parking lot I came to. “Crystal Cove State Park” the sign said. As if to bless our playing hooky, a swallowtail fluttered onto the white hood of the car and took a breather, yellow and blue wings flapping in the intense, hot light. Mama’s face glowed like a little girl’s on Christmas morning. I grinned at Jamie, who giggled. We hadn’t seen Mama’s face so animated for months. We waited for the butterfly to resume her journey, then Jamie and I yanked the wheelchair out of the trunk and helped Mama into it. Drowning in dancing pink and lavender wildflowers, we headed off into a piercing sun, along a path winding steeply down the bluffs. Once we arrived at the beach, the wheelch air presented problems, but Mama laughed out loud as we bounced her over gray pebbles to the tide-line of dried seaweed and on to flat, moist sand recently bathed by the tide. We parked near an outcrop of boulders, Jamie flinging himself flat on his back onto them.
“These rocks are so warm,” he sighed, as comfortable as a cat.
Mama gazed out to sea, and my heart warmed to see golden light reflect off silver waves onto her deeply smiling face. “Bah, bah,” she mumbled and reached for my hand. We sat holding hands a long time, just watching the ocean. Although I’d been raised in England on the shores of the bleakly beautiful North Sea, the untamable Pacific has truly captured my heart.
As the tide ebbed, I spied tide pools. “Hey, Jamie.”
All Jamie could manage was a grunt in reply.
“You ever seen tide pools?” I asked.
He bolted upright. Sea creatures fascinated my city-bound nephew. I pointed to islands of brown-green seaweed.
“Wha-a-a-a!” he yelled, leaping off the boulder.
“Tell Mama we’re just going to wander over there.”
Jamie crouched beside his grandmother and explained to her. She stroked his curly black hair in reply.
I pounded down the beach to crash through foam to the rocks.
“Wait,” Jamie shrieked, hopping about on one foot as he yanked off enormous sneakers.
I turned to wave to Mama, who waved back. It pained me to see how much effort that simple motion ate up.
“Do you think Mama would like to pledge?” I asked Jamie.
“To what?” He bent like a hairpin over a puddle of tiny crabs who scuttled away from his shadow to hide under curtains of pungent seaweed.
“It’s a word the English use for dipping your toes at the edge of the sea,” I explained.
He glanced over his bronzed shoulder back to Mama, a little old lady swathed in a black shawl; she looked so frail. Eyes sparkling, he beamed at me.
We splashed through the waves, then cut up the beach. Before Jamie had even finished explaining it to her, Mama had impatiently unwound her shawl and was lifting her feet off the wheelchair footrest.
I kneeled to remove her velveteen slippers, and she nodded with glee.
Jamie and I pulled her up, waiting for her to feel secure. She took a deep breath, focused on the distant horizon, and out shot one small foot.
The slope wasn’t of any consequence to Jamie and me, but Mama’s toes groped before she dared venture each step. She almost toppled a couple of times, and I regretted my idea as I saw her breathing labor, but she gritted her jaw. She couldn’t vanquish the cancer, but she could and would do this.
As soon as icy spume flooded between her toes, her body melted. Jamie and I were able to move slightly away as she stood on her own. Eyes closed, Mama tilted her face to the sun and breathed deeply. As her lungs released the cleansing air, she moaned a soft sigh of such contentment, and my eyes welled with tears.
We arrived back in LA. after dark, sneaking into the apartment like three naughty mice. My sister-in-law was frosty; What on Earth had we been thinking?
Mama, Jamie and I exchanged conspiratorial glances.
Jack Canfield; Mark Victor Hansen, Steve Zikman
Chicken soup for the nature lover’s soul
Florida, HCI, 2004
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Plodging in the Pacific
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