The Mississippi coast is not like south Florida, but it always seems warm enough for sandals and short-sleeved shirts, except for now and then. In Ocean Springs, I take long walks on the beach every morning, watch sunsets on the pier, and wait for various offspring to come visit. It's wonderful to have a refrigerator full of whole milk and chocolate pudding. I even buy juice boxes. I like to see them sitting there, just the right size for certain little girls and boys, something they can handle. I especially like the little straws that are attached to the boxes.
When I am in Ocean Springs, I have many grandchildren and great-grandchildren within reach. They are not as easy to handle as adults, but they have nonstop energy and imagination and never have to go to the doctor for colonoscopies or skin cancer checks, or get prescription drugs for sleeplessness. Children live in the present, and since I am trying to learn to do that, they are my favorite companions in my old age. I like to watch children sleep. You can walk around a room and take things out of drawers and it does not awaken them. Children sleep in a state of grace. I have much to learn from them before I get any deeper into my 70s.
My condominium complex is the only thing on Ocean Springs's two beaches that survived Hurricane Katrina. The contents of the lower floors were swept out to sea by a 40-foot wave, but the structures were sound when the wave receded. Thanks to the smart people who serve on the condominium board, we were well insured when it came time to rebuild and repair. In September 2007, I moved back into my condo and went to work spending all my money to fill it back up with furniture and beds and toys. I refuse to let my grandchildren think a once-in-a-lifetime storm can ruin all our fun.
If I were younger, I might have sold the place, but my older grandchildren lost their childhood home in the storm and need a place to stay when they come home for weddings and festivals and to see their friends. Besides, I love Ocean Springs as much as I love Fayetteville. I like to walk on the beach and marvel at the flatness of the land, and watch the sun rise and fall on the Gulf of Mexico. Since the hurricane, I like to look out at the sea and think about all the silver and china and lamps and furniture and coffeepots and toys and bicycles that were swept out to sea. All the old letter jackets and cheerleading costumes and dance recital props and leaf blowers and automobiles. The red electric truck I bought for the children to drive to the beach, and then drive home and inside through the sliding glass doors, is out there somewhere, rusted now perhaps, a home for squid or barracuda.
The children and I were planning on buying a new truck, but while I was in Fayetteville the builder put on new doors, and they're too narrow to drive a truck through. Maybe we'll build a toy garage.
I am a lucky woman. I have two homes that wrap around me and make me feel safe. Fayetteville, beautiful little wooded town. Nothing to do but teach school and write books and wait for the mail. Ocean Springs, children and toys and a typewriter that is mostly turned to the wall. Moist air that fills in my wrinkles and curls my hair. No worries, no freezing, no shoes.
Ellen Gilchrist is the author of Victory Over Japan, The Anna Papers, and Nora Jane: A Life in Stories. Her latest novel is A Dangerous Age (Algonquin).
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