Two days before we left Chicago to move to one of the Carolina islands, the owner of the duplex we had rented there for the off-season suddenly decided that his duplex wasn’t really ready for renters. He did, however, offer to let us rent his nearby condo while we searched for a new place, an offer we took only because we didn’t have time to secure other lodging immediately. At the time, this was relatively stressful; we had just put most of our things in storage, loaded up our car and our newly-purchased minivan complete with car top carrier, and were ready to head down to Carolina with a six-week-old and a two-year-old in tow. Ultimately, this abrupt change was a good thing, leading us to a different island that, in the end, was a much better fit for our family. But when we first got there, we were desperate to find a new place, unpack our vehicles, and settle in. And, we were eager to see if living on an island in the Carolinas was something we could see ourselves doing more permanently. So we combed the internet and spent countless hours driving the coast those first few days, looking at houses on different islands.
On one of the first days, somehow we stumbled on a house for rent on the island we had originally targeted. It was small, and right on the main road leading through the island. It was a mildly charming house from the outside, but we knew quickly that it was all wrong for us from a practical standpoint. The layout left no room for LCB to have an office with any measure of sound protection, an obvious necessity with two small children adept at producing high volume with regularity. And, while many features of the inside were appealing, the floors, oddly out of place with the rest of the house, looked like locker room floors. I kept staring at them, a bit disconcerted, trying to figure out what they were. The coup de grace, however, was the washer and dryer located underneath the house in what looked like a huge, totally unfinished and highly creepy crawl space without light.
Call me odd (which would be fair), but I just like feeling a sense of cleanliness within the environment where I wash the family’s clothes, rather than feeling like I’m in a hiding spot deep within the Underground Railroad.
But after coming out of that dark, dingy laundry space under the house, we moved up to the front of the house, by the ocean. It was a bright, cloudless day, and the sun blinded me as I climbed the stairs, contrasting starkly with the bowels of the house. Inside the house, at the kitchen table sat five women, all silver-haired, playing cards and laughing with abandon. They were so engrossed in their game and whatever it was they were laughing at that I hated to interrupt the moment for them. It was a scene I wanted to stand and watch.
It was a moment that made old age, even with all its wrinkles and ailments and uncertainties, look more desirable than youth.
We exchanged pleasantries with the women for a few moments, and then, not wishing to disturb them any longer, I moved beyond them into a long, narrow screened-in porch that ran the length of the front of the house. It was high tide, so the ocean was close to the house, running several shades of blue and green. There, along the length of the porch were several wooden rocking chairs, each one painted a different bright color. A small table covered with copies of Southern Living sat in the middle of the chairs. The chairs rocked lightly, moved by the breeze coming off the ocean. I stood there, so new to the idea of a life lived by the sea, absorbing everything. I stood until it would have been awkward to remain longer.
Until the day I die, I’ll see that porch and that ocean, and I’ll hear the laughter of those women behind me. I’ll see it as clearly as if I were experiencing it anew.
The poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph begins with the line, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple,” and then goes on to list all of the things the poet will do when she is old and no longer restrained by the responsibilities she now has.
When I am an old woman, I don’t know what I’ll be wearing. But, I do know what I hope I’ll be doing, and where I hope I’ll be doing it.
When I am an old woman, I shall sit in my rocking chair and rock by the sea. And I’ll think about those women, on that day so long ago, and I’ll remember how the light streamed through that front porch as I stood there inhaling a sea more turquoise than anything, the laughter of the women behind me.