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Getting Down To The Nitty Gritty

Despite my anti-bikini-friendly shape and disdain for ultraviolet rays, I come alive at the beach. Unfortunately, my husband would rather be skinned with a butter knife than sit on a beach, and this contention alone threatened our marriage.

Can a marriage survive when two people are such polar opposites in likes and dislikes? Or would our marriage crumble away like an ephemeral castle built on sand? For it was sand that fueled our divisive argument.

The beach would be fine, my husband says, if not for the sand. Without it, I counter, the shoreline isn’t a beach. My kids feel the same as I do, although I had the early advantage of indoctrinating them during babyhood.

Living in Southern California has many advantages, including being near that glorious stretch of natural sandbox that lines the coast. I’d tote along the kids with a cooler of drinks and a tube of sunblock, and we spent many mornings awash with sunshine, sea spray and sand.

Unlike my husband, my children love the sand. I watch as they burrow deep into the powdery grains like happy chinchillas talking a sand bath.
“Bury me!” my little girl begs. She is satisfied only when a Cheshire cat grin is her only visible part peeking from underneath her sandy blanket. We’ve built the requisite sand castles and animal shapes with more imagination than skill. Moats. Battle pits. Turtles. Rabbits. All rinsed away for a fresh start at another masterpiece.

On the days we coax my husband into coming, he is as miserable as a moist tree frog on a hot skillet. And he croaks about this the entire time. But one strength of our union is that we all enjoy each other’s company no matter what the environment, so we coax and compromise.

On one outing, he lugged a suitcase-size cooler over the sand to our chosen spot. Puffing and sweating, he grunted, “This is another reason why I hate the beach! We always have to carry the whole blasted house with us.” As my daughter and I scratched the family names in wet sand, he watched from his perch atop the cooler. He was fine. Until the inevitable happened.

“Hey, you kicked sand on the towels!” he accused my son. “Brush it off!”
Now, if you’ve ever tried to brush sand off a damp beach towel, you know how futile it is.
“You’re getting more sand on the towel!” his voice rose with concern.
“Honey, we’re at the beach. There’s sand everywhere,” I intervened. “It won’t hurt anything.”
“It’s so blasted uncomfortable,” he retorted, flicking off individual grains of sand as though they were bloodsucking ticks.
“It gets everywhere. In my sodas, my eyes, and every crack and crevice in my body!”
“It likes you!”
“It isn’t mutual,” he said stiffly. I sensed my Pollyanna approach was annoying him so I diverted everyone’s attention to lunch, but the knock-and-block commentary continued.

“Oh, god, another gritty soda.”
“Get another.”
”Man, this stuff won’t come off.”
“Shake it off.”
“It’s wet.”
“So wait ‘til it’s dry.”

One of the kids grabbed a towel underneath his folding chair and bumped into his paper plate. His Original Recipe chicken wing took flight and crash landed onto—you guessed it—the sand.

He stared at me wordlessly. I replaced his empty plate with another piece of chicken sans the extra crunchy coating but too late. He had lost his appetite.
“Just consider it fiber,” I quipped, but clearly his annoyance was now down-to-the-bone misery, and I felt selfish. “Let’s go home, honey. You’re miserable.”

Then, my son saved the day.

“Dad, show me how to boogie board,” he pleaded. Now my husband isn’t exactly the surfer type, but his paternal instincts took him to sea. And the water worked its magic.

It carried away the fettering sand that clung to him like suffocating tar. It soothed the burn of the relentless sun. The gentle waves bobbed the two of them up and down for a lilting ride. He waved to us shore bound creatures. He paddled farther out, disappeared under the foam and popped up again shaking his sea-drenched hair from his eyes. Like a carefree teenager, he flashed that dimpled smile that melted my heart years ago.

Then, I remembered why God put the surf next to the sand. Alone, they overwhelm. The sea swallows; the sand parches. Together, they temper each other and blend to form a new and wondrous entity. Like marriage.

By the time he washed onto shore again, he looked refreshed. “I forgot how much fun the ocean is,” he gushed. “How ‘bout coming in with us?”

My previously patronizing air vaporized. It was my turn to resist. “The rocks on the bottom hurt my feet.” “My contact lenses might wash out.” “What if I get caught in a riptide?”

He held out his hand. A new bride will latch onto her husband’s hand with blind eagerness. But I am no new bride. After years of marriage, we’d been through many threatening waters. Yet love and compromise always brought us safely to port. I placed my hand in his outstretched palm, not with blind eagerness but with the trust of a seasoned wife, and together we entered the water.

All at once fearful and exhilarated, I loved him for enduring my seaside passion, for still discovering new experiences for us to share, and for holding my hand through the years as we navigated the unpredictable waters of our lives.

Complaints are few now when we return to the beach, this magnificent place where we remember how surf and sand complement each other, and all of our differences seem all right.

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