ISSUE No. 4

Clerestory

A clerestory is a window which allows light and air into the body of an old building. Clerestory Magazine stories and storytellers are like windows through which the pain and beauty of the human experience shine.

The Clerestory Podcast S1 E16

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A Castle of Dreams

There is a place we return to every summer by the Gulf of Mexico. It has a long winding sandy path we walk on to the beach, covered with old oak trees, reaching to the sky with long branches that hang low and thick over the path like a mother’s hug. The blue water of the sea glistens like sapphires in the distance; the ink gold sun hangs heavy in the sky, puffs of high clouds dance over us, as we walk this way every morning and every evening. This is the place we call home for a month every July.

The cardinal, red-winged blackbird, and blue jay sing of freedom and possibilities. The memories my family makes here carry us through the year of clanging alarm clocks and activities like gerbils on the Ferris wheel of life. This sliver of sand and sea and the comforting scent of pine trees remind us to let go and just be.

The sun still blazing in the late afternoon sky penetrates our backs and legs and arms and hearts like little kisses waking us out of the damp fog of city life. The place we go to every summer calls to us to follow the unhurried pace of the ebb and flow of tides under the moon’s watchful eyes. The gentle waves and warm blue water of the Gulf of Mexico beckon us to release our burdens and, like turtles, return to the sea to grow. We gladly exchange the rat race of the city for crab cakes and lazy days in the hammock. We round the last corner of the long stretch of highway and turn off onto the narrow one-lane pot-holed road, empty of cars and people. The handmade sign that says, “Welcome to Paradise” is languidly swinging in the hot humid July air. Opening the windows, we inhale the sultry scent of the salty air, and our shoulders loosen and begin the slow descent to a much-needed repose. All four of my children, squeal with delight, “We’re home.” And we are.

“There it is, there it is,” my oldest son at seventeen, losing his cool demeanor as t he strains his neck to see the house. This is the same house we rent every summer, “The Castle of Dreams,” always waiting to remind us of the family bonds of love and memories that will never fade.

“I see it, I see it, calm down everyone; Lord, ya’ll sound like yapping puppies,” I laughingly reply. Their excitement fills me with peace. All is well, right here, right now.

The restrictions and expectations put in place by a society that celebrates work over family and mindless consumerism are left behind as we turn on the sandy road. Though we somehow manage to keep a weekly family night together and church on Sundays sacred, we’re still tethered on a leash to endless sport practices and games all over the city, which has left us depleted in body, mind, and spirit.

The summer is our reprieve from 21st-century living. This tiny beach town that we return to each summer for the last fifteen years has become our anchorage; our port of call and a place of our own, where disappointments and hurts melt away in the scorching heat of the southern sun.

The late summer afternoon is flush with egrets and blue heron and osprey and pelicans; all sing of brand-new memories to be made. Fishing boats bring their brown and pink shrimp to the dock awaiting our inspection for the evening meal we will have around our table laid out with yellow and blue placemats and bowls of fruit we’ll buy from the local market. As always, my oldest son will lead us in prayer but this time instead of saying, “Oh, Lord, help us to make it to summer vacation,” He’ll say, “Hallelujah, we’ve made it, Amen!” The bowls of cold shrimp and crab cakes that melt in the mouth and snapper that tastes like fresh air are passed around and we smack with contentment, no words needed.

My cup runneth over.

Every year the damage of their father’s violence and then unending absence receded more in the distance, covered over and caressed by the cadence of the whippoorwill and the love cry of the dove and this house by the sea. Their father, who was at times a good man, let the dark past of his boyhood become the man we all feared, and finally, let go of – though with scars that only we can feel, and nobody sees.

The car kicks up the sand on the dusty road and comes to a stop in front of our house. We claim our house, though rented, like warriors weary from battle, another victory made. Car doors are thrown open before I can turn the engine off and the boys and my daughter tumble out, each wanting to be the first one to the front door to turn the key into “our place.”

“I found the key, I got it first,” the middle boy shrieks as both his brothers try to wrestle the key from him. Their sister quietly waits, shaking her head, but smiling, savoring the way her brothers scramble for the key.

“Hold on, hold on; y’all will break down the door,” I say. But it never does; it stands like our family weathering all the storms of life that come our way.

I slip off my sandals, step onto the burning white sand mixed with soft pine needles and stretch my tired arms to the cloudless sky, breathing deeply and shaking off my grave clothes like Lazareth. We are home. Running out to help me with the luggage the boys hurriedly sprint in, talking about who will run to the beach first. My daughter checks out the house, making sure it’s still the same, the assurance of stability in our home away from home. It remains the solid foundation beneath our feet.

“Come on Mom, let’s get to the beach!” they yell.

Jumping two-by-two off the wooden porch, they grab the rest of the bags. The youngest picks up my tattered old straw hat, which I wear every year, jams it on my head and pushes me up the steps into the life we dream about from August to June.

Walking into the house, I do the very same thing every summer – I stand motionless and listen to the stillness of the house and the symphony of the birds and the wind gently rustling the pine trees, and the waves rolling onto the beach.

The peace that surpasses all understanding settles in.

The kids throw the bags into their rooms, yank on their swimsuits and race each other down the long winding path where the trees sweep the path with dappled sunlight. The outgrown footprints of yesterday are replaced with ones that fit the realized dreams of the here and now, and sprint down the well-worn path of the familiar and the laughter of my children to the same swath of beach – our beach.

When the month ends, we will return to the city and the routine of school, work, and activities that make up our days. But at night when the nightingales begin their serenade by our windows, we will fall asleep dreaming of our house by the sea that we will return to next summer.

Until then we carry the sunshine on our backs and in our hearts.

English instructor 25 years, secondary and post secondary. Monthly OP-ED contributor for The Galveston Daily News (my local paper), Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award, among others. Published poet. Mother of four adult children, one of whom is in heaven.

Discover more from Leslie Cappiello.