Sometimes childhood fears are built on foundations that crumble when examined closely — like being afraid of the dark. Many a child has cried out when the bedroom lights are turned off, but the darkness of a bedroom can’t hurt you.
The fear of a dark room is not logical. Even so, our granddaughters have not one, not two, but three different nightlights in their bedrooms. I know it’s not logical, but it makes them feel safe.
Then again, sometimes childhood fears are built on the foundations of logic and refuse to crumble under any examination — like being afraid of the beach, or more accurately, being afraid of sandcastles.
Yes, Dear Reader, I have a fear of sandcastles, and it is the result of an event that happened a long, long time ago while growing up on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.
When Dad told us we were going on a beach vacation, the first thing we planned to do when we arrived was to build a sandcastle. With three brothers, The Sister and me, shovels, buckets full of sand, and waves of water, how could anyone possibly get hurt, much less die?
And yet, someone almost did.
Word of warning to my young readers out there, please don’t try to repeat what is in the story below when you go to the beach. It could scar you for life. How do I know? I still carry my beach scar to this very day.
Dad had driven all night so we could reach the beach by 9:00 a.m. and have a full day of sand and fun. We five kids spent the entire morning building sandcastles, filling carefully dug moats with buckets of sea water and then destroying everything only to build them again.
After lunch it was Older Brother Richard who said, “I’ve got a great idea. One of us should lie down and we’ll build a sandcastle on top of them. We can all take turns. It’ll be safe and no one will get hurt.”
There were those words again. Whenever one of my brothers spoke those words, I knew it wasn’t safe and someone would get hurt. Still, I thought, how could sand hurt anyone? I volunteered to be the first human castle and lay flat on the beach.
My brothers and The Sister quickly covered me with sand up to my neck and then started a castle which sat right on my chest. Jacksonville, Florida has hard-packed beaches, making the sand perfect for building castles. The sand, saturated with water, is also much heavier than the powder white beaches found along the Gulf of Mexico.
At first it didn’t bother me, but after the tenth bucket of wet sand dumped, all that sand was getting heavy. Not wanting my brothers and The Sister to make fun of me, I didn’t say anything. After all, I was well on my way to being the first human sandcastle and they weren’t finished building yet. After the fifteenth bucket, I said, “It’s getting a little hard to move.” They thought I was joking.
After the twentieth bucket, I struggled to say, “It’s getting hard to breathe.” Trust me, twenty buckets of wet sand on a seven-year-old’s chest is extremely heavy.
At first, they didn’t believe me — until I started to cry. There was a long pause while they exchanged confused looks then a mad scramble to dig me out. Still, it was a lot of sand and the digging seemed to take forever. If it hadn’t been for Dad running over to help dig, I might not have made it off the beach that day — a beach day I’ve never forgotten.
Next week The Wife and I are taking the Girly Girls to Jekyll Island. Its beach is hard packed. I asked them what they wanted to do first when we arrived. The girls said in unison, “We want to build a sandcastle.”
Upon hearing their answer, I was instantly back on that Jacksonville beach, covered in heavy wet sand, unable to breathe. As my chest tightened like before, I told myself it wasn’t logical. That beach experience was a long time ago. Then again.
Some of the deepest childhood scars are carried on the inside.
Then I heard Dad’s voice speaking the words he spoke to me on that beach as he was digging me out from under that sandcastle. “Just breath, son. I’ve got you.”
He was my foundation then, and as I listen to his words echoing through the years, that foundation is just as strong now as it ever was.
I know I’ll still be somewhat apprehensive when the girls start building their sandcastles. I just hope I can be as good a foundation for them as my dad was for me.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]