Ripples on the Water – by Ellouise Schoettler
Written July 2 , 2019 Published August 14, 2020
When I was 7 years old on summer days I walked with Granny on the beach and filled buckets with sea shells and rocks. Granny warned me to stay away from the pilings of near-by piers which were crusted with barnacle shells. Good advice but I learned the hard way how sharp they can be.
In evenings I sat with Granny on the top of the bulkhead ladder as the light faded and we listened to the rythmic slap of the water against the bottom of the steps as the tide came in. It felt good to be there with her - like everything was right with the world
Sixty-five year later Jim and I went with our daughter and her young sons to at that same North Carolina beach.
One morning Jim spotted a jelly fish floating in close to shore and scooped it up in a red bucket before it could hurt anyone. Holding the bucket young Scotty ran down the pier to show it off to his mother, our daughter Robin, me and other pier sitters. The translucent mushroom shaped mass pulsing in the bucket did not look like it could deliver such a painful blow. But it could. Finally we convinced Scotty to throw it back into the water. We watched as it pulsed itself away.
The summer when I was seven, just Danny’s age, I saw early morning light dancing on water. It was magic.
The summer of 1942 was during World War II. At the beach I saw men wearing Army and Navy uniforms everywhere we went at the beach. On Saturday mornings Granny did her "war effort." She drove into Wilmington to the USO building and gathered up a car load of friendly, laughing young soldiers and sailors. She brought them home for a swim, some supper and then she and Dad Jack took them to the week-end dance at the Lumina Pier.
For the dance I put on my best cotton sundress and white strappy sandals. The music came from a band on the stage. Once one of our young men asked me to dance. I stepped onto the top of his feet and we moved around the floor. It was just about the best thing that had ever happened to me.
When the house was full for the week-ends I slept on a black leather chaise in the living room next to the porch windows. Because of the war we had to keep the blackout at night to protect the shoreline against any enemy submarines that might be on patrol off the coast. Granny said that was another part of our war effort just like using food stamps and saving gasoline.
At dark we had to turn off all the lights - or if we needed a few lights we had to put up extra heavy shades which would not let the light out. The chaise for me was next to the porch windows. Granny put a radio out there so they could listen to programs, music, news and goodness they talked and laughed. It felt special to lay on the chaise next to the open windows and listen to Fibber McKee and Molly, Jack Benny, or the music of Glenn Miller, The Andrews Sisters or even that crazy Spike Jones.
One very early morning I was laying on the chaise looking at a comic book. Granny had opened the black out shutters when she went to bed. The sun was just coming up and the faint early rays were lightly playing across the surface of the water. I must have turned to the window just at that magic moment when the daylight goes on like someone is turning up a dimmer switch. The light became brighter and brighter until the water disappeared and I saw only the dancing surface.
One day we walked over to the beach to go swimming in the waves. We stopped on the top of the high wooden pedestrian bridge to watch several water skiers being towed behind a speed boat. The skiers were laughing as they crisscrossed over the waves behind the boat.
After the boat passed I could see the glimmer of a school of fish just beneath the surface of the water; then they dove and disappeared from sight. I wondered what it was like in the deep water.
Then I watched my hand reach out over the railing. My fingers opened up and I dropped my white cotton hat. It sailed on a breeze until it’s weight pulled it onto the water below. I watched it sink deeper and deeper until it disappeared.
I told stories for the boys and others at the Wrightsville Beach Museum. The boys listened and laughed and later I heard them tell the stories again to each other. I felt satisfied. This was what I had hoped for.
The morning we were leaving I woke early. I stepped onto the balcony in our room just in time to see the sunlight turning the surface of the water to dancing diamonds just as it had when I was seven and saw it for the first time. Tears ran down my cheeks.
As we drove down the causeway toward the drawbridge I looked back even though I knew that I could not see Granny’s house, but it did not matter. I knew now had that I had her house with me anytime at I wanted to go there.