Growing up, my family went to the beach whenever we could. Every July for a full week, often on three-day weekends and even in the coldest months; Waves crashing on an untouched sheet of snow is a sight to see.
It was a known fact that one day my parents were going to leave Apex for the coast. They always said once the kids went off to college, they were making the move.
When the opportunity came up, however, my brother was still a sophomore in high school; They tweaked their original plan, but if I had to guess, I think their only regret is not leaving sooner.
They bought a house on the canal and fixed it up to their perfect home.
My family has always been close, but in the years since the move I’ve felt more connected to them. Part of the reason is probably because when you go to college, you realize you took being home for granted. But I also attribute our relationship to Oak Island.
Some people may not appreciate it, saying the island is too small or there aren’t enough “things to do.” But its simplicity, in my opinion, is what makes it special.
You need to understand there are two versions of Oak Island: on-season and off. During off-season, when it’s just the locals, the main street is slow and it’s a relief to make those left turns sooner than normal. Because in the summer, the street is jam-packed. People line the sides of the roads, looking both ways for cars to pass before they cross the street to reach either beach access or an ice cream shop.
In the winter, the only proof of civilization on the beach is in the form of a few footprints and the imprints of dog paws trailing behind. In the summer, it can be a madhouse. But when the sun sets to a purple or orange or yellow, and the vacationers are out at their dinners, the beach is a place of peace again.
That’s the time when I sit with my family, waiting for the turtles to hatch. It could be any day now — we’ll have to come a few nights in a row — but until then we make conversation, spending time together whether we realize it in the moment or not.
When it’s not nesting season, I’ll lay out a blanket with my mom, reading a book and occasionally looking up if I hear my dad or brothers reeling in a fish. I yell at my dad because I always feel bad for the live bait, but he can’t help his obsession with catching a shark.
The island is small enough that your choice of entry is limited to two options: the old bridge or the new one. Driving over them, my family will yell out “high tide” or “low tide,” depending on the view of the intracoastal waterway out the window.
Besides the Dairy Queen, your only options for eating and shopping is small business. Some people have voiced their concerns for me because of the island’s lack of a Starbucks, but I tell them I like it that way. I appreciate a local coffee shop, especially because I came from Apex, which once felt like a small town but is now development, growth and more development.
It’s cliche, but true. Life is short. You need places where you can feel yourself living in the moment. For me, it’s on a beach. Here, my only concerns are the newly-installed no trespassing sign where I visit my friendly neighborhood alligator, the safety of a turtle’s nest and the fear of someone building an overpriced coffee franchise.
When I get done with my three-hour drive from college, my mom always invites me outside to sit on the dock with her. A few moments later, my dad will join us. Then, I hear the gravel as my youngest brother pulls up in his car and soon, my oldest brother comes home from volunteering at the town’s bird rescue.
For the first time in a while, we are all together again, catching each other up on our days.
More than once, I have seen my mom become distracted by the view of the canal we live on and the tall trees across the water. She turns back to me and asks me a question:
“Aren’t we lucky we live here?”