I was walking the beach at Perdido Key when their conversation caught my interest. “One little step. That’s all,” the mother repeated as she reached for the tiny hand. And with a little trepidation, the child stepped into the ocean for the first time.
I love the beach and have since our first family vacation to Daytona the summer after Mary and I were adopted. Before we got to our final destination, Daddy turned east off Highway 41 to give us our first glimpse of the ocean. We were somewhere in the Jacksonville, Fla., vicinity and I was mesmerized every summer of my youth by the waves, the surf, the sand – and at first a little intimidated.
My all time favorite trip was the summer of ’69. I had just graduated from high school and late one night Daddy adjusted the rabbit ears on the television so we could watch the first man walk on the moon. Life could not have been more hopeful — college in a couple of months; music that was a-changing; hormones that were gurgling. To this day I can’t smell Coppertone Sunscreen without being immediately transported to summers at Daytona Beach.
When I went to college in Alabama I was introduced to the Gulf Coast. It’s a completely different ocean, but the excitement is the same.
Last week I was in heaven at Perdido Key on a much-needed respite with my friend and neighbor, Brenda. We spent Saturday settling in and catching the first rays of sun. Early Sunday morning I took a long walk and that’s when I overheard the mother/daughter conversation. I thought Mom had a great idea. Take the challenge one step at a time.
Later that morning, my friend Alan sent me a text message about the worship service at the Flora-Bama, a destination bar on the coast. I’d visited the Flora-Bama a couple of times on previous visits and trust me, we were not singing praise music and no one was coming to Jesus. The concept of bar church raised some questions such as: “What does one wear to a bar on Sunday morning?” or “If there is communion will it be wine or Bloody Marys?”
When we arrived, we had to search for a parking space and a seat. The place was packed with people of all ages and stages of life wearing all sorts of outfits. There were even a few people with a beer or a Bloody Mary in hand. On each chair was a spiral bound book, “The Honky Tonk Hymnal for Worship at the Water.” Instead of announcing the page number for a hymn a woman walked through the congregation holding up funeral home fans emblazoned with the page number for the hymn. She was kinda like the girls who hold up the “round number” at a wrestling match, but just a titch more covered. When we left, I felt as revived as the tent revivals of my youth. Worship was good.
The next morning, I awakened long before sunrise and sipped coffee on the deck, waiting for the first glimmer of light to herald the beginning of another day. As soon as the dark began to subside, I headed east on the beach to welcome the first glimmer of daylight. After a while I saw a lone fisherman casting his lines into the early morning water. “Any luck?” I asked. “No, but can you believe we are the only two people on the beach?” I smiled and continued my walk. About 30 minutes later I turned around and passed the fisherman again. “More people on the beach.” I commented. “Hey,” he said with a grin. “You brought me luck! After you walked by I pulled in three fish!” I beamed at his comment. It’s been a while since anyone told me that I brought them luck.
For the rest of my trip, I sat on the sand and reflected on how the beach of my youth was all about activity, adventure, and coming-of-age experiences. Now it is about reflection, solitude, and simply letting go of all the challenges of the world. It is about watching the tide wash away footprints and honor the ebb and flow of water and life. The beach reminds me that much of life is a mystery and can’t be predicted. And most of all, it’s about having the courage to take just one step when you’re not too sure about what lies in front of you – and embracing a little honky-tonk faith.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.