Girlhood. Momhood. Lifehood.
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On the Dock With a View

June 7th, 2008

As I write this, I’m sitting on the living room floor of my grandmother’s house. I sit in a room that holds a thousand memories. I remember vacation days spent waking up to the smell of biscuits and bacon and family chatter around the breakfast table. I love jumping the waves out at Mexico Beach and afternoons spent swimming off the dock in Mema’s bayou. But none of these tops my favorite part of our visits here – looking out across the backyard as the sun hits the bayou in the early morning, making a band of tiny, sparkling diamonds that stretches across the channel toward the dock.

When I packed us up for this annual trip, I was expecting very hot weather (definitely got that…so much so that my Yankee husband is about to melt), some great photo ops of the kids on the beach (check) and a few moments stolen to sit back, share a mug of coffee with Mema, and enjoy my favorite view (absolutely). What I didn’t expect was that amid the white sand, the water toys and the homemade pound cake, I would find myself inside the town hall this past Tuesday night, standing at a podium, helping to defend the future of a bayou that I have loved my whole life.

As I addressed the town mayor and the members of the council, I explained (with more emotion than I had planned) that my grandfather had built one of the first houses on the bayou in 1956. I went on to say that it’s the home my mom and her sister grew up in, the home I’ve been visiting every summer, and the home where I now bring my children for a summer vacation with Mema.

So as I spoke into the microphone, voice cracking, I urged them to reconsider granting approval of a large condominium development that’s planned for the plot of land just across the water from my Mema’s house. It would bring with it a high rise and dozens of boats to fill an already crowded channel. Mema’s neighbors also took their turn at the podium to share their heart-felt concerns over the inevitable loss of marine life. They talked about the added noise and light pollution, and they reminded the council that the reason people treasure their homes here is because of the tranquility of the largely unspoiled water. As I listened to them speak in a familiar southern drawl, I felt for just a second, a bit out of place.

But my grandfather, Beba, who died when I was just 7, would have been pretty proud to see me stand before the mayor. I can’t help but think that fate handed me this small chance to honor him and my roots that go back many, many generations and much further south than I live now. Mema’s house has always been a haven, a place to play until the sun goes down without a care in the world. And as a child, a teenager, and now a bonafide grown-up with my own children, I realize I have taken this place for granted. But despite changes that the years inevitably bring to my visits, there’s a permanency to the memories that flood through me every time I drive up the driveway…the tall oaks blanketed in Spanish moss, the feel of the wooden handle as I pull back the heavy sliding glass door, the creak of the kitchen linoleum under bare feet, and even the soft whirr of the air conditioner welcomed after a long day in the sun.

Tomorrow, we will pack our bags and head home. And Mema and my aunt, and the others who live here will continue to write letters, attend meetings and do what they can to protect the bayou from being pushed into a new and unwelcome era.

I once heard a quote that has come to mind several times this week, “If you didn’t help build a ship when it set sail, don’t be standing on the dock with your hand out when it returns.” I’ve always thought that was good advice.

And now I have my own addendum to that…you can’t just sit back on the dock and enjoy the view without taking a turn at the podium first.

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