Wave after wave arrives, recedes, arrives — neverending music of liquid tapping the sand — a pattern copied by my memories of growing up in Rehoboth Beach with my brother, how the wave music was more in the background than under the spotlight on center stage (which happens on family beach vacations), while us kids walked or cycled the boardwalk, went to school, worked in the bookstore, ran around the streets. Called this home. How echoes of those times live in my head and heart. This summer, my daughters are living and working in Rehoboth. Other echoes. Different experiences from mine. My pride of seeing them in this transition of different growth than they’re used to. They are more waves arriving on this beach, bringing their own distinctive music, adding to the concert.
A video from that morning walk (to watch on YouTube, click here)…
Quick! Build the wall taller and thicker against the onslaught of farther-reaching waves! They’re worse than an invading army with catapults! We must protect the sandcastle at all costs! Otherwise, the hours of work on its graceful arches and majestic shell-dotted towers will be for naught!
Quoby the question mark hopped off his bike and locked it to the bike rack. (Please don’t ask me how the question mark rode the bike, as I don’t know.) Then Quoby, with a large towel hanging from his shoulder, walked the short path over a grass-pocked dune to the beach.
The beach opened wide. The ocean stretched to the far horizon. The waves sang their rumbling song. The salt air smelled delicious.
As Quoby walked on the beach, heading toward the ocean, a group of ampersands met him. The ampersands formed a wall blocking Quoby’s way.
“Hey, bud,” an ampersand said, “I don’t know what you’re thinkin’, comin’ here. You got to know this beach is only for us ampersands.”
“Yeah, mac,” another ampersand said. “Ain’t there a beach just for you guys?”
“There is,” Quoby said. “I’ve been there lots of times. But I wanted to try something different today. What’s the harm in me sitting on your beach?”
“What’s the harm? Ha.” An ampersand flexed his downward slope. “We can’t go mixing ampersands and question marks. That ain’t right.”
“What’s not right about it?” Quoby asked.
“Because it ain’t, that’s why,” the ampersand said.
“Yeah, it’s been this way for years, and it’s working just fine,” another ampersand said.
“But what if we mix it up?” Quoby asked. “What if some of you guys come to our beach, and some of us go to your beach? Wouldn’t that be neat to try something different?”
“Ain’t nothing neat about that.” The ampersand flexed his slope again, this time with a sneer on his face.
“I’ve never seen a question mark this close!”
The grownups looked down at the owner of the new voice. A small ampersand with a light-blue floaty encircling her middle. Water dripped from her, making dark spots on the sand.
“Go back to your family,” an adult ampersand said to the little ampersand.
“But I want to see the question mark!” the young ampersand said. “It’s so funny looking! Hey mister, aren’t you uncomfortable with that big curve on top and that little dot at the bottom?”
“Not at all,” Quoby said. “It’s who I am. I can’t control that, and I like it.”
“I like being an ampersand!” she said.
“Good,” Quoby said. “You should be proud of that. And there’s nothing wrong with being a question mark either.”
“That’s not what Mom and Dad say. They say you people are weird. But not as weird as the dollar signs.”
“You might think we’re weird because we’re different than you,” Quoby said. “There’s nothing wrong with looking different and having different purposes than other people.”
“That’s enough out of you,” an adult ampersand said. “Get back where you came from. You’re causin’ trouble, and we don’t need no trouble in front of the children.”
Quoby scanned the faces of the adult ampersands lined up before him. Also, he noticed the many other ampersands were looking from their places on beach towels and chairs. As if he and the nearby ampersands were on a stage, and an audience watched with keen interest. Quoby figured nothing good would’ve come from him pressing his wish to spend the day on this beach. The nearby ampersands probably would’ve beaten him up. He would’ve limped back to his bike. He would’ve struggled home. The bruises would’ve taken a while to heal.
“I don’t want to trouble you on this fine day,” Quoby said. Then he looked at the young ampersand and said, “You had courage to come over here. I hope you have the courage to ask questions. It’s very good to ask questions about the things around you.”
The young ampersand nodded her head.
As Quoby walked back over the grass-pocked dune, he worried that the ampersands would jump him and beat him up. Thankfully, they didn’t. He unlocked his bike, got on, and pedaled toward the beach populated by question marks. Quoby was disappointed, but he was glad for going to Ampersandy Beach today.
I was wondering that question, lying on a floral beach towel, a speck in a crowd of swimsuited people— all of us lumps of cookie dough glazed with sunscreen and coconut oil baking in this oven.
I lift a handful of sand, watch the grains cascade in the spaces between my fingers, thinking there’s got to be metaphors for time, uniqueness, perseverance— maybe insignificance if you’re in that kind of mood.
But above the ocean, a small plane flies before us, towing a banner advertising a restaurant’s all-you-can-eat buffet, and the sand falls from my hand, forgotten.