Greetings from Gulf Island National Seashore. We are camping along the sandy white shore with the sparkling gulf to our south and a foamy bay to our north. The days are a bit chilly but there’s plenty of sunshine so we are doing just fine.
Here’s your postcard:
What we did not realize is that we were assigned a camping spot in the Cantubury Tales section of the park. We are not in the tent section of course, with the tiny walk in spots. Nor are we in the large RV area. Those Giants could swallow our vehicle whole, I suspect and then us get digested on their big screen TV’s. Ewwww.
Instead we are nestled happily amongst the misfit toys- some proper camping vans, a few tents, smaller trailers, and us. Our hammock swings freely between two live oak trees and the kids happily ride their bikes everywhere.
Our next door neighbor is Charles. He is the sort of neighbor who you can’t help but be friendly toward. Warily and resignedly you exchange introductions, aiming for just the right amount of kindness, lest he spend all day hovering.
Charles speaks with a slight delay and slur that makes me suspect brain damage though he has no problem recalling details. With bright blue eyes and a friendly smile he explains that he has been cycling for the past decade. Ryan is currently giving his bike a tune up, because well that’s the way he rolls.
Last night Charles invited us to his evening fire. I intended to decline but as I walked to the bath house I noticed Charles was already gathering chairs, anticipating our arrival. Somewhere he had managed to procure three pallets to burn.
Across the bay, as taps was being played at a naval base, I cooked our dinner, knowing we would end up at our neighbor’s fire. Less than an hour later, we were all assembled. Charles had also invited three neighbors from our section.
Jackie Ray hales from Texas. With a friendly drawl we learn that he is a triplet, born 14 minutes after his nearly identical sisters. Their mom was 22 and thought she was carrying just her first baby; a single baby.
With white hair and a fisherman’s outfit, he pulls his birth certificate out of his vest. Who carries around his birth certificate, folded carefully in a plastic baggie? Well Jackie Ray does for one. I notice that he and my Dad share the exact same birth date. He shows me where they wrote “still born” on his official paper, then crossed it out and changed it to “live birth.” I wonder what that would do to a man’s psyche, walking around knowing you were an unexpected miracle. I ponder this as Jack pulls out a coin to show us. He found it while scuba diving with his metal detector off the coast of Honduras last fall.
Charlotte and Lloyd have clearly been getting to know Jack and Charles because Carlotte chimes in with details when they are skipped over in stories.
Tell about how the newspapers covered your life events through high school, Jack.
Oh and Charles was the state photographer for Illinois back in the day.
Charlotte just turned 80 so she has plenty of back in the day sort of days. It would be difficult to tell her age by firelight. She wears her hair long and her gentle smiling face is accentuated by long deep wrinkles that make me suspect she’s been busy living these last 80 years.
She and Lloyd met at Yellowstone National Park in the early 1980’s. Between the two of them they have children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren spread across the country. They just downsized from a bigger rig to a more medium sized motor home and retired from camp hosting. They both hold pilot liscenses though their flying days are over, so they say. They sold their home on land and are making good use of this home on wheels. Next week they’re visiting the New Orleans branch of their family but this week they’re doting on my kids.
I have not seen Lloyd or Charlotte yet today. I suspect they’ll come outside when it’s a bit warmer.
Jackie is off with his metal detector, participating in an officially sanctioned archeological dig.
As trailers leave, Charles busily shovels their discarded ice into his cooler and collects wood. There will be a fire again tonight and I eagerly await the characters and stories we are sure to meet.