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Lately there has been something lightly brushing against my psyche, like one of those wispy flyaway hairs which tickle my face but are hard to see because they are fine and white. Unseen, unspoken, but there, definitely there. I keep brushing at it, trying to make it go away, but then it tickles me a little bit again. If I could define this feeling, I guess I would say it is almost like an very faint itch, one that is not an annoying itch like a mosquito bite that you feel compelled to scratch, or the painful presence of poison ivy which you definitely had better NOT scratch. No, it is like an little itch way in the back of my consciousness that is trying to tell me something, something I want to know, but I don't know exactly what it is.
This is what has been happening with my need to do the shelling projects. At first, I put it down to just the arrival of Summer, wanting to make the house look beachy; and hey, I have always loved shells and the idea of the beach, although with my super white skin I can only go out on the beach at daylight and dusk. But I do love the idea of living in a beach cottage, gathering shells when the tide goes out, living easy, in white gauzy caftans and flip-flops, my long grey-white hair wavily flowing down my back in the breeze, doing artsy-fartsy projects all the time, writing The Great American Novel, all with Sweet Husband handing me a frosty goblet of chilled white wine now and then, a large dog or two lovingly wrapped around my feet. Lovely picture...
When I first saw the beach, I was about ten years old, and I didn't like it at all and the hot sun stung my skin. The sand burned my feet, and I couldn't play out there for hours like my little brother could because my delicate white skin would burn so fast. My next experience was at Tybee before it got famous, when it was still commonly known as Savannah Beach, a place for the working class to spend a day out of Savannah. Still wasn't thrilled. Then in North Carolina, and I visited that coast and wasn't impressed with that either. When my friend Carolyn left Salisbury after her divorce, she moved to Isle of Palms, and not long after, I was divorced, too. She introduced me to an eligible bachelor doctor who was a friend of her ex-husband's who had a beach house on Pawley's Island, and suddenly, the beach's appeal flew right off the charts.
Between Carolyn's place and Clif's, I fell crazy in love with the Low Country of South Carolina. Suddenly I realized why people loved the beach. At Carolyn's little house, a typical small beach cottage which she had decorated in quintessential beach style to perfection with rattan furniture painted bright yellow, some bamboo pieces here and there, and shell art everywhere, I knew I had found a new style besides Louis XV to love. She even kept her daughter's horse in the back yard! Kelley could take him out on the beach for a ride. What a life! I was especially fascinated with the shell-encrusted mirrors she had placed in practically every room of the cottage.
iPhone shot from photo album
in Texas house
When she told me she had made them all, I was gobsmacked. I wanted one, too! She told me what to do: Go to Kmart, buy a cheap mirror for $5 with a wide frame; paint it white; stick on shells with Elmer's glue. (Nobody had ever heard of a glue gun then. This was mid-70s.) When I got home to Charlotte, that was the first thing I did. I found one in an octagonal shape, and I followed her instructions. She had provided me with a plethora of shells and sand dollars, all of which she and her children gathered from their daily beach jaunts. Her method of getting them so white was to wash them in Clorox water and lay them out on the picnic table in her sandy back yard in the sun to dry.
One of my boyfriends (I had several in the city as well as the one at the beach by then) dropped by one Sunday afternoon while I was making on the mirror. He laughed and said, "When I was in rehab, we used to call this OT!" Then he helped for a while. (I later found out he was a drug dealer and stopped seeing him! You already know I used to have a thing for the bad boys. Maybe I will write about him one day.)
I carted that mirror all over the country during my Nomadic life, and used it in every home I had after that. Once in a while I had to glue a shell or two back on, and even had to touch up the paint now and again. When Sweet Husband and I lived in Arlington, right before we came to Alabama, I had hung it in the shower room part of the Master Bath. I had removed the mirror that was in there and given it to my friend Terri who needed a mirror, and when we sold the house, the girl who bought it asked me if I would let her keep the mirror. I said "Sure" -- figuring I could always make another if I wanted one. Years after that, my son asked me what happened to it. Apparently he had always liked it, and said he would have liked to have it! Who knew?
Over the years, I have done other shell projects, including another mirror which is currently under our bed. I don't have anywhere to put it at the moment, but it has been in several spots both here and at our previous house. I already mentioned my longing for those expensive topiaries I had seen in the NM and Gump's catalogs, and how they were way out of my price range. Then, suddenly the impetus was there in the last few weeks, to JUST DO IT!
My friend Carolyn got married again, too, a few years after moving down to the beach. She came to Anniston for my wedding when I married my previous husband, the short-lived one who came out of the closet and turned my world upside down again, and then I did not see her again for ten years when she phoned me out of the blue while I was single again, living in Dallas. She was having marital troubles, and just needed to get away. The visit was not a happy one. Although we had kept in touch, mostly through Christmas cards and a very occasional phone call, I was a bit surprised at this sudden demand for refuge, but I couldn't say no. After several days she went back home, they patched it up, and I didn't hear from her for a long time except the ubiquitous Christmas card which always arrived the day after Thanksgiving. Her husband never made any secret of his dislike for me, so I just felt like that's the way it was, and we all went on with our lives. It was not until Sweet Husband and I took a vacation to Hilton Head several years ago, that I decided I wanted to show Sweet Husband that South Carolina Low Country that I loved. I had by then begun communicating more regularly with Carolyn via FaceBook, and so I let her know our vacation plans. We drove up to their home in Mt. Pleasant for the day, and we also were delighted to see another of my old friends from Salisbury who had actually bought a condo behind Carolyn's for a vacation home. Her husband was still not exactly cordial, but was reasonably civilized most of the time we were there. We left after dinner to drive back to Hilton Head. It had been twenty years or so since her visit to Dallas. When I returned home, I sent her a goodie box with lots of Estee Lauder sunscreen and the little gift with purchase that came with, plus a nice straw hat. During the visit I saw her nose reconstruction because she had had melanoma which I knew, and was in the process of several surgeries. The doctor had done a good job -- I really couldn't tell. Her prognosis was good.
I got off FaceBook after that, but I still kept in touch with Carolyn by email after that, loosely. Our children were all grownups by now and out into the world, so most of our communications involved news of our children and their doings. Then about five years ago, I received an email with the chilling news that she had pancreatic cancer. Very advanced, inoperable, involving the hepatic artery. Although I was not on FaceBook any more (which really irritated her), we did correspond intermittently, and I sent the occasional greeting card as well. I always dreaded the day when I knew the communication would stop.
The years went on, and Carolyn defied the odds. Numerous treatments, a failed attempt at the Whipple procedure which is sort of a Hail Mary for sufferers of this type of cancer, and she just kept going and going and going! She was always like the Energizer Bunny, burning the candle at both ends, sleeping no more than three hours a night, and always on the go. I used to call her a gadfly and she would laugh. She did not seem to let this disease slow her down -- ever. She was an amateur genealogist, and really loved digging up all these ancient family ties for herself and others. She was a descendant of John Quincy Adams through Abigail, which she loved to tell anyone who would listen. There were numerous inherited dead ancestor portraits in her house, including those of the just mentioned. The last correspondence I had with her sometime in the Spring mentioned that she had been in the hospital again, but she brushed it off lightly, as usual.
I sent her an anniversary e-card on April Fool's because April 1 was her wedding anniversary. No one but Carolyn would have chosen that day to get married! When a reply did not come, although I got the email message that the card had been opened, I began to think about her a lot. I debated calling, but decided not to, since I didn't know the situation.
Then this obsession with finally making the topiaries started. I began to obsess, and said to my husband numerous times, "I wish I knew how Carolyn is doing. It is very unlike her not to acknowledge a card." Once before I had gotten my foot in my mouth when a friend was (unbeknownst to me) killed in an car accident, and I had sent a very cheery note in the Christmas card. I received a long letter from her husband a couple of weeks later telling me what had happened and that he was so sorry he didn't get word to me. After that debacle, I just didn't want to get my foot in it again.
However, that little niggling in the back of my head got the better of me last night. I Googled her name, and her obituary popped up. She had finally lost her battle, and she died on May 25, right about the time I started getting those strong urges to find out how she was doing and to make those seashell topiaries. There was a memorial service for her on June 3, but I suppose no one thought to let me know. She had lived for five years with advanced pancreatic cancer, defying all the odds.
It seems so surreal to think that she is no longer in the world with us, Carolyn with all that energy and that sassy mouth. Where did it go? I don't know what you think about the theory that we are all connected somehow, and that the forces of the people we have known and cared about are always around us and very close to us at times. This experience makes me believe that it could be so.