31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Old Vacation Spot Embraced By Kids

Single with Children: Old vacation spot brings back memories

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 06/27/01

When I was a little girl, I read a story in National Geographic that absolutely captivated me. The writer had taken a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a thin, fragile strand of islands just off the mainland. I read with interest about the history of the area known as "the graveyard of the Atlantic.'' I stared at the photograph of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which guided mariners safely around the dreaded shoals that caused many a shipwreck. I marveled that the Wright Brothers found the area the perfect place to test the flying machine that gave birth to air travel.

The first summer after I married in 1981, my husband and I took our first vacation on the islands that had long ago captured my attention. It not only lived up to its press but, in fact, exceeded it. I found the Outer Banks even more enchanting than I imagined. Not only did we visit many of the historical sites the area is famous for, we also climbed Jockey's Ridge, the largest active sand dune on the East Coast rising to more than 100 feet in places! Though my first Outer Banks vacation was taken at the age of 21, I knew it wouldn't be my last.

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to introduce my two teen-agers to the barrier islands. My kids are fairly well traveled, having lived all over the United States as their dad was relocated every other year or so. I also had the good fortune of taking them to Paris a couple of years ago on spring break. With that in mind, I was a little apprehensive that my beloved Outer Banks might not quite hold up under their teen-age scrutiny.

We arrived at our condo in Kitty Hawk around midnight, exhausted from a day of travel. I walked out on the balcony and stared at the Atlantic, happy to be back to the place I fell in love with so many years before. I stood listening to the pounding waves while my kids checked out the video library the owners had graciously furnished. Drat. I feared that I might have to extract them from some favorite movie to visit everything I had planned. How could I compete with a well stocked VCR collection?

The next morning dawned beautifully, and I enjoyed the hours before my sleeping teen-agers awoke, sitting on the deck with a book on my lap, but lost in a swirl of memories from years before. I smiled, remembering how clueless I must have been at 21, newly married and with no idea of the challenges lying in wait - many moves yet to be made, children to raise and even the loss of a marriage. I couldn't have imagined everything that would occur in my life. I felt such a swirl of emotions in remembering the past 20 years, some of it exhilarating, some of it bittersweet but, mostly, recounting how much being a mother has changed me. Just as my kids had in the past 14 and 17 years, I, too, had grown in so many ways.

After breakfast, we set out on what my kids now call "the lighthouse tour of 2001.'' We visited four during the course of our stay on the Outer Banks. We also hiked up to Jockey's Ridge which, from a distance, doesn't look as formidable a climb as it does at its base! We watched hang gliders jump from the top to soar as gracefully as the birds that seemed to be everywhere. The panoramic view from the top of the dunes was exquisite. During the course of our weeklong vacation, we would return four evenings to watch the sun set into the calm waters of the sound, painting the sky in colors too incredible to describe. No special effects could possibly replicate what nature seemed to do with such ease.

As the week flew by, we visited Roanoke Island and took in the outdoor drama "The Lost Colony,'' penned by Paul Green, who also wrote the drama "Texas'' playing in Palo Duro Canyon. We visited an aquarium, bought the usual souvenirs that tourists always fall for, filled up on fresh seafood and took new kites to the top of Jockey's Ridge. We watched as our kites soared at the end of our 500 foot spool of twine. Such a simple thing, flying a kite, and yet, as Katie and Justin stood there watching the spins and dips, I felt as though I were the luckiest Mom in the world. I wanted to freeze that moment, watching my kids embrace and enjoy a place I was almost afraid would be a disappointment to them. I was never so happy to be wrong!

All too soon our week was finished, and it was time to head back to reality and home with our seven rolls of film. One evening, in looking at our new photos capturing all of our adventures, I pulled out a few saved from my first trip to the same area such a long time ago. I had good memories from that first trip. I had just made some even better ones in the company of two people who didn't exist back in 1981 but have come to define so much of what is good in my life.

The three of us had wondered how we would fare spending a week without a computer, in a rustic part of the country that has very few man-made exhibits or attractions. As it turned out, we were reluctant to leave the simplicity of lighthouses, shifting sand dunes and crashing waves. We didn't miss for one-second the E-mail, Web browsers and cell phones that have come to be an integral part of our everyday lives. It was fun relying on a game of Monopoly for evening entertainment and, as it turned out, the video collection in the condo saw very little use. The distant sound of the surf was much too irresistible and made for perfect background music. Perhaps the nicest thing was finding that whether one is 14, 17 or even 41, there is joy to be found in nothing more complicated than sharing the magic of flying a kite.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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