Carolina Girls

Every summer, my family vacationed on Topsail Island, North Carolina for one treasured week. Mom would load the back of the wood paneled station wagon with brown paper grocery bags of food. My three brothers and I laid claim to our space for the four hour drive by karate chopping a boundary line in between us on the vinyl back seat, Hi-yah!

Invariably, someone’s foot, hand or breath would breach the imaginary border.

“Mom, he’s on my side!”

When she tired of playing the role of United Nations, Mom would banish the offending party to the way, way back.

I didn’t mind riding in the back so much. I’d lie down and watch the rows of green tobacco plants flicker by like the spokes of a wheel. When I became hungry, I’d pull out the Honey Combs cereal and have a snack while secretly admiring the picture on the box of Bobby Sherman.

Just when cow poker was about to lose its luster, Mom would sing “Who can see the ocean first?”

We’d train our gaze on the undulating sand dunes, searching the tiny valleys between them for a glimpse of blue. Like baby birds we’d chirp, “I see it! I see it!”

We were drawn to the sea, bobbing like bell buoys in the briny currents, searching for the perfect crest and sometimes getting pummeled by a rogue wave. At night, sunburnt, tired and lying in between the sandy bed sheets, we’d close our eyes and get rocked to sleep by the phantom push and pull, push and pull, push and pull of the tides.

We continued that family tradition for years, even after Dad left us. One moonlit night, there was a party on the deck of the cottage next door and I watched Mom peering through the open kitchen window, elbows resting on the sill. The sounds of “Beach music”—those boppy, Carolina R&B tunes—drifted up from the party below. Mom held her hand to her mouth as she laughed, her feet dancing to the beat. For the first time, I realized there was someone else my mother used to be. She was not actually born a mother. It was then that I realized she was in this alone.

Mom was fiercely protective of us, still is. Breaking into the Dameron family for any girlfriend and later, a boyfriend must have been a daunting task, much like wading into the ocean. There were a few family dinners with significant others that crashed terrifically beneath a sea of tears. I think Mom just got used to protecting our borders.

When I worked up the nerve to tell Mom that Paul was going to become my husband, I was terrified. She wept for many reasons, but happiness certainly bubbled to the top. Mom told me she felt like she had missed that boat—that she never really had “The love of her life.” She had devoted herself to her boys and God help the poor man who came calling at our door on Latham Road. He would have been greeted by a tsunami of rambunctious Dameron boys and the flotsam and jetsam of our pets. As much as Mom protected our borders, we flooded hers.

Like all kids, I pushed Mom and my brothers away at one point or another, attempting to find myself and become the man I am today, but Mom never stopped pulling me back. She starts every conversation with, “When was the last time you talked to your brothers?”

There is a faded photograph of Mom as a pretty, young woman clinging to us on Topsail Island. When I look at it, I can feel the phantom push and pull of the tides. God, we all look so happy. The edges may be a bit tattered, but it’s clear to see, Mom didn’t have one single love of her life. She had four. 

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