There is a calm that consumes you when you cross over the bridge. Welcome to Wildwood Crest, the sign says, but in small, invisible ink it says, leave your worries behind.
Walking through the back door hits you with a realization that dozens of lives existed before you, right here in the very room you stand in. There is an aura that captures a person upon entering the house; something in between “this is home” and “this is the place I will always come back to” that makes it so addicting I never want to stop walking through the doorframe.
I have watched thousands of strangers stroll down Louisville Avenue in the summertime sunshine, chairs slung over their shoulders and towels positioned tight under their arms. They smell of sunscreen and sweat. They radiate joy.
The children run ahead – careful not to rush too far so as to get beckoned with a sharp “you get back here right now!” – and their youthful glee echoes through the beach town streets like midday singsongs in the breeze.
Ice cream sticks to their chins as they rush to the water, jump and duck to beat the slapping of the waves, squealing at the splashes, giggling at the tide’s inevitable victory in this battle. A loss to the ocean is hardly a defeat at all.
Moms and Dads ooo and ahhh at the illustrious castles their children construct. “What princess lives there?” the mom asks, and her daughter rambles on about the story of a wonderfully decadent little girl with big blue eyes and flowing hair that sits and waits for her promised Prince Charming. The little kids function of promises of life; they’ve hardly known a world where joy and contentment are not guaranteed.
In their small cottages, the families gather for dinner, tiny tanned hands crossed over to recite their Nursery School prayers. They can already taste the barbecue, or – if their little voices begged and pleaded enough already – the pizza from the shop on the boardwalk that leaves their stomachs singing.
When the breeze cools the island just enough to bundle into sweatshirts, the people flock the other way. At the bay, there is a show of brilliant color. This wondrous earth in all its natural glory shows us bold oranges and dazzling reds, mixes blues and pinks like a cotton candy sky. The parents watch this show with childlike wonder. The children run circles around the yard, shrieking and hollering but never piercing the gentle beauty of the moment.
Years ago, my grandmother would have sat in the old wooden chair on her front porch, journal in one hand, pen tucked behind her ear, tea to her left on the rickety old table she loved so much. I’ve never seen that sight, but with exquisite wonderment, I can imagine it, so gratefully assisted by the gorgeous words she left for us. I can almost certainly see the sights she ogled at once before as she consumed the beauty of her island and all of its immensity.
“O’ precious jewel I search for you,” she says, so awed, such yearning for this tiny little island of home. The thousands of visitors that leave their footprints in the sand may retain a glimmer of the sun’s rays, but my grandmother, with her curious mind, held the sun inside of her, spread it over the glistening sidewalks of her quaint town, and covered all of us in the warmth of her light.