Memories of the past are usually nostalgic. Ordinary moments made perfect with out traces of pain, suffering, or regret. When I allow myself to make one of these reflective journeys to my youthful past, most will fall under this category. Not all however. I have to go quite a ways back to remember one of my fondest experiences that took place with my family. It is in Panama, Canal Zone and I was 14 years old. I guess that would be 1963, when I was a freshman in high school.
It was a typical evening. With 8 other brothers and sisters still living at home, things were usually pretty noisy and chaotic. Music, TV, some fighting and yelling along with no privacy, made things tense for me. So I went to my room and closed the door. I was thankful that my brother Robert was out, so I had the place to myself. Being the second oldest of those still at home, I had the honor of having a bedroom with just one other person. My head hurt and I just wanted some quiet. I took some aspirin and went to bed early. I guess it was about 10 in the evening when my mother came in and asked if I wanted to go to the beach and hunt sea turtles. My answer was to jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as possible. My mother’s eyes laughed when she saw how happy I was.
Panama had the most beautiful full moons. I would often go for long walks by myself so that I could enjoy the beauty of the night. Some nights were so bright, that there were times that I could actually read from a book if I wanted to. It was also on full moons during three months of the year that sea turtles would crawl onto the beach to lay their eggs. So once or twice a year some of us would go out and see if we could catch one. There would usually be six of us that went.
Our supplies were simple. Just coffee and an old black pot to place near the fire for the water to boil. Baloney sandwiches were also included and that was it. Simple and sweet, no great planning was necessary. The hunting was just an excuse for going, since we only caught one in all the years that we spent time on the beach. It was a 45-minute drive to our destination, though if a ship were going through the locks we would have to wait for a time. I loved the drive so much that I did not mind waiting; neither did anyone else.
When we arrived, it was a about 12 a.m. As we drove down to our regular place, we could see a few fires along the way, but none were within a mile of our usual stop. We spent some time getting enough drift wood for the fire and soon the fire was blazing, with the old faithful coffee pot sitting in a safe place, allowing the water inside to boil and make our coffee. The coffee was served black, strong and very bitter.
There was not much talking. All we would do is sit by the fire and watch the flames and listen to the waves. We would take turns walking the beach two-by-two. On this night, it was with mom and we slowly began our trek down the beach. I felt so much at peace that night. It was Friday, so there was no school to worry about; all I had to do was to be present to my mom, the ocean and of course looking for a sea turtle. I was always afraid we would actually find one; for me it would ruin the trip. I never told anyone that of course. We did talk a little but there was no need for much of it. I think we were all grateful to be out of the house, the noise and the chaos. All we had to do was to be together. So, yes, this was a perfect time for me, something short and sweet, and I guess I have very few memories like this one, but because they are rare, their beauty and power are that much greater.