What a Beach!

As the saying goes, you never know how many friends you have until you own a beach house. Back when I was married and owned a fancy-schmancy condo in Destin, Florida, friends came to spend a summer weekend. They very thoughtfully left me a hostess gift – an illustrated print titled “How To Be A Beach Woman.”

Back then, I appreciated the print because of its cosmetic appeal and because it made me laugh. I hadn’t mastered all of the print’s recommendations, but I had a few of them down pat.

For example, the very first recommendation is this: “Lose the Uncomfortable Shoes.” During those Destin days, two of my friends and I went down for a beached-whale weekend. In other words, we lay on the beach the whole weekend, only pausing in our talking and drinking to come up for air. At some point one evening, one of us suggested we take our pretty selves to a nice restaurant for dinner. Donna pulled her cellphone out of her beach bag and called the restaurant to make a reservation. When she hung up the phone, she took another swig of her margarita and announced, “Six o’clock, party of three, and no close-show-toos.”

“Close-show-toos?” I said. “What’s that?”

“I mean close-two-shows,” she said.

“They’re closed for two shows?” I asked, wildly confused.

“Closed-toe shoes!” Ann translated. “No flip flops allowed!”

We opted not to eat at that restaurant since the only closed-toe shoes in my condo were for playing tennis. Apparently, I was already well on my way to becoming a beach woman.

Next in the list of suggestions is “Come About.” When my friends gave me the print, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I assumed it had something to do with, “Come About six for drinks. We’ll go out to eat around seven.” Since I’d mastered that concept, I checked that one off my beachy woman list.

The third ingredient for becoming a beach woman is “smell like a coconut.” Given that I could eat my weight in coconut pie and consider pina colada mix a pantry staple, I didn’t even need Hawaiian Tropic for my pores to ooze coconut. Coconut smell? Check.

Not long after the print came into my life, my life fell apart. I filed for divorce. My ex-husband got the gorgeous condo. I got, among other things, the “Beach Woman” print and the dachshunds and enough money to buy myself a beach house in St. Augustine. The print now hangs in my St. Augustine beach house, and more than ever, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in its simple instructions.

“Pretend that you forgot how to work the oven and that the vacuum broke” is another step in the beach-woman transformation process. My ex got the expensive German Miele vacuum I’d purchased for the condo. But in keeping with the Beach Woman advice, I turned the job over to an eight-pound black and tan dachshund. Technically, I still have a German vacuum cleaner, even if it’s one that only works in the kitchen. For me, that’s close enough to check off my beach-woman list.

There is one recommendation on the print that I always had trouble with, however. “Remember that the opposite of perfection is character” just sounded wrong to me. The opposite of perfection is chaos and disorder. It’s a middle-school field trip or a teenage daughter with a surreptitious tattoo.

And it’s also reality.

I’m slowly learning to ease my death’s grip insistence that life should be the way I think it should. Perfection, I’m realizing, is the opposite of character. And happiness.

And one more thing: I discovered that “Come About” is a sailing term. It means “to change course so as to be sailing at the same angle but with the wind on the other side,” which is kind of what my whole life has been about since I filed for divorce nearly five years ago.

Which brings me to the final piece of advice on my print: “Be Thankful.” Today, for all the changes that have brought me to this porch overlooking the beach, for the imperfections and the flip flops and for the beachy woman I’m becoming, I’m grateful.

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