Before the recent flooding, my husband and I lost two town homes on Navarre Beach to Hurricane Opal. One was totally destroyed, the second partially, but it still had to be demolished. We saved nothing from either one, because climbing through rubble to salvage anything was too risky. Looters had taken that risk in the second town home, and a daughter and the two men who had come to help us wondered why anyone would risk their life for a microwave and other kitchen items. Though I still remember how the destroyed town homes looked, what I remember most is the happy times we had there.
My husband had his boat taken down there, and he and a friend took her out frequently. He had friends from the Power Squadron who lived nearby, so we met them for meals and visits, always enjoyable. We’d also made new friends, and blended social occasions with time on the beach. One evening toward sunset we set up chairs on the beach, watching the sky turn purple and pink and gold and orange–and then, to our amazement and delight, we saw the green flash sometimes seen when the sun drops past the horizon.
I remember, too, the response of our eight month old Lab, Morgana, to her first introduction to the beach. I took her to the National Seashore right up the road, parking near the Sound side where the water was calmer. Sandpipers were thick on the sand, and Morgana, who had never seen so many birds walking, hurtled herself toward them. Of course they all flew away, the beating of dozens of wings sounding in our ears. Further up the beach, a Great Blue Heron stood near the water, watching for fish to come. Morgana saw it, rushed up to it, and then stared in astonishment as what she thought was a tree flew away. The heron did indeed look like a tree–perfectly still, its legs looking like a trunk, it body the top of the tree. Determined to get near this object, Morgana stretched out on her belly, her four legs on the sand. Inch by inch she sneaked forward, only to see the heron take off again. Undaunted, she then went into the water, sank into it until only her nose showed, and again, sneaked forward. At the very last minute, the heron flew away. She came to me, her eyes asking what had just happened. I dried her with a towel, and let her run along the beach until even this active, enthusiastic puppy was ready to go home for lunch and a nap.
The EPA allowed us to build one single family home in place of the two town homes so long as we stayed within the footprint of the original buildings. We lucked upon a contractor who had been recommended as the best on the beach, and he proved to be just that. The pilings were driven in June. By mid-July, the framework had been completed and the Tyvex put in place. We moved in in early August, still astonished that our neighbors, who had begun building new town homes in February, still hadn’t completed construction.
Thus began nine of the happiest years of my life. I had renovated many homes, but this was the first house I had a part in designing. When I think of it, I remember good times birding with a new friend, house parties when Baton Rouge friends filled the guest rooms, times when various daughters and their friends visited–and also times when I had the house to myself, and could watch the ever-changing views out of my bedroom window as I worked.
That house escaped the havoc of Hurricane Ivan with minimum damage, despite being in the northwest quarter where the Hurricane’s force was the worst. All nine of the houses my contractor built on that beach survived, though many others were destroyed. The house sold the next March, and I went down to pack it up. Those few days were hard. That house had nothing but good memories, and it took me a while to conquer sadness with the gratitude that we had had such a haven for so long. Much of the furniture and other items ended up in various daughters’ homes, because I had no room for them. The daughter I’m staying with has some of them, and seeing them triggers so many memories, including my first grandson’s first visit to the beach house.
These experiences reinforced something I had realized many years before.: when we weigh the grief the death of a loved one brings against the joy we had because the person was in our lives, I think most people would say the grief is worth the price. I feel the same way about those beach homes. Their loss is more than balanced by the peace, content and joy they provided, and that is what counts.