Discord and Harmony on the Coast of Maine

Rick Burns

It was a hot late August day in 1986 on mid-coast Maine. My wife, Kathryn, had given me poor directions and we were driving about trying to find a recommended beach. We were hopelessly lost. I fired a few angry words and, in return, she shot a few warning shots across my bow, then we lapsed into a stony silence. Our sons Casey, nine, and Baggy, five, feeling the tension, sat uncharacteristically quiet in the back seat.

Finally we arrived, parked, gathered our gear, and headed for the shore. A Maine travel-poster beach awaited us: a light breeze blew, a roiling green sea ref lected the filtered rays of the sun, the incongruous late-summer whiff of wood smoke rose from fire rings and the sugar-sandy beach contrasted with rounded-rock outcroppings offshore. As we neared the water, Baggy suddenly remembered that he had left his pail and shovel in the car. He asked us to return to get it. Experiencing parental fatigue in addition to our friction, we both said no, we weren’t going back. Seeing his crestfallen look, I softened and said I would go with him to get them. As we walked slowly back he slipped his hand into mine, looked into my eyes and said, “If there is a divorce, I’m for sure going with you.” Touched, I kneeled down next to him and told him that his Mom and I loved each other and were just having a small disagreement. He nodded, rallied quickly as five-year olds do, and we headed back to the shore.

As we neared our blanket a large, shallow tide pool, loomed ahead of us. I told him, “Watch this son, I’m going to walk on water.” “That’s only been done once before.” “Do you know who did it? ” He shook his head, furrowed his brow and remained silent. Then, confusing his Sunday school lessons with a story I had read him a few nights before, he brightened and said, “I know, Jesus and his three Merry Men!”

We got back to our towel and sat down. Kathryn, miles away, lost in her discontent was reading her novel. I leaned back in my beach chair and gazed at the sun. The boys bubbled and clattered seeking our attention to no avail. After awhile they abandoned us and went splashing into the water together. I followed, concerned about their safety. We played for awhile in the always cool Maine ocean and then walked down the beach. We came to a rock outcropping dented by a sea cave. As we peered into the deep shaft of darkness, I grabbed Baggy’s shoulders and queried ominously, “I wonder what lives in there? ” Stripped of his illusions, he looked up at me soberly and offered, “Probably nothing.” A short time ago he would have conjured up visions of monsters or sea creatures. Another tiny step in the long march to adulthood.

As we walked along, my older son, a budding sports star was deep in thought. I asked him what was on his mind. Bracingly candid he responded, “What’s the league below the NBA if I can’t make it? ” At nine, reality had brazenly strode into his life. I wished he would allow himself the luxury of dreaming that he would make the NBA. He would learn soon that a will doesn’t always find a way. But I wanted him to believe that sometimes it does. I watched my lively, lovely sons amble back up the beach, wondering what the years would bring. Their sweet touch on my life was my greatest prize. I wondered if God would give me a pass to come down in fifty years to see how they were.

We went back to our spot on the sand where Kathryn, less brittle now, awaited us. She brought drinks and some apple fritters out of our cooler. Casey, a realistic child, asked me if he could have the second biggest one. Kathryn smiled and handed me a fritter. She wore a tight red swimsuit and her rounded hips caught my eye in spite of myself. Ten little candy toes, painted bright red, smiled up at me. Aware of my gaze she smiled shyly and shook her head. As always, in time, skin grows back over the wound. Things so bothersome earlier mattered so little now.

It was time to go. As we walked back to the car, Kathryn and I spoke softly, saying just enough. “You look tired,” I told her. “I’m not tired” she laughed. “This is how I look.” The boys sensing growing harmony were upbeat, chipper. Peace, elusive all afternoon, washed over us.

Rick Burns coached women’s soccer at several different colleges across the United States. He now lives in Bella Vista, Arkansas.