That First Summer

obx waves

Outer Banks Soul

Summer. 1996. I was eleven years old, and unbeknownst to me, my parents were taking me to a vacation spot that would become my favorite place on earth.
We stayed in the town of Duck that year, one of several oddly named villages that made up the “ribbon of sand” that is the Outer Banks.
Although it was twenty years ago that my feet first grazed the sand on those beaches, memories from that week are ingrained in my mind forever.

Snippets of the Beach

I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents’ SUV as they navigated the winding roads through Duck in search of the beach house we’d be sharing with our extended family. In the days before GPS and even before MapQuest, they were relying on crude landmarks and waiting for the house “with a blue door” to jump out amongst its brothers and sisters that stood clustered on stilts a few lots back from the ocean.
I remember joining my teenage cousins later that day on the beach, listening to them explain about the strong waves, dangerous undertow, and the burn of salt in your eyes and sand on your skin. I remember wearing my black one piece bathing suit with neon stripes and learning to boogie board in the surf, trying not to complain too much about my brush burned skin and itchy, salty eyes.
I remember lying in a bunk bed, feeling the gentle sway of the house on its stilts lull me to sleep.
I remember driving to Zero’s Pizza past ten o’clock at night with my newly-licensed cousin, laughing hysterically as he impersonated the man behind the counter with a deep southern accent and coke-bottle glasses. I remember feeling rebellious for the first time, being out past my bedtime, eating junk food that was the best pizza I had ever (and would ever) taste.
I remember walking out onto the pier, smelling the salt and brine ingrained in the ancient wood that swayed beneath my feet but had stood sturdy for decades against hurricanes and nor’easters.
I remember my Dad, cousin, and pap waking up at 4am to leave for a deep-sea fishing expedition, and waiting at Oregon Inlet for their charter ship to come in. I remember watching in awe as the ship’s captain and first mate tossed the day’s catch onto the dock – dauphin, red drum, mackerel.
I remember the gift shops. Sprawling maze-like old buildings with seashells and ship’s wheels, paintings, and wood carvings. Larger, newer shops, with fluorescent lighting, naughty t-shirts, and the smell of plastic inner tubes and a “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” sign on the door.
I remember being roused from my bunk bed before dawn on that last day and experiencing for the first time what it felt like to truly not want to go home.
I remember turning my back on the ocean as we sped North, knowing that I had left a piece of my soul behind.

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