The black, bead-like eyes of hundreds of startled crabs seemed to twinkle as they caught the yellow glow streaming from my flashlight. Gazing at the myriad of colors stretching endlessly over the vast ocean before me, I am reminded why this spot is revered as the sunset capital of America. Suddenly, a shrill, giggle-filled war cry pierced through the serene sound of the crashing waves, as five little girls charged after the creatures, with buckets in hand and pails brandished proudly. I’m sure the small, tourist-minded island strip that is Dauphin Island, Alabama has witnessed many a wild evening shindig on its sandy shores, but the one unleashed by my family that night was nothing short of monumental. After scooping up an amount of crustaceans deemed sufficient by our father, he declared the time for the “Circle of Courage” contest was upon us. Dumbfounded, six daughters shuffled into a circle around the giant of a man, and gazed intently at the sly smile on his face. In fact, we gazed so intently that no one recognized the buckets had been emptied until the crabs were scampering over our unprepared feet. The brave individuals who chose not to flee in fear were honored above all for the rest of our trip. The inspiration for this particular family tradition remains unknown, but its outcome still leads to disgrace or soul-consuming shame. By the end of that night, the crabs had no doubt developed a severe case of PTSD. As for my family, we all reluctantly trekked back to our home on the beach, clutching sea shells and other intended mementos, anticipating another fun day to come.
During this particular vacation, my mother met a psychologist. Houses available for rent dotted the coastline shoulder to shoulder, so it was natural to run into temporary neighbors every so often during your stay. After chatting nonchalantly concerning the location, tourist attractions, and individual home states, this man mentioned a trick of the trade he had utilized during his stay. As my siblings and I ran down terrified crabs, he had sat and observed our behavior from his balcony. The actions that seemed insignificant to us that day indicated to him the unique roles each person played in our family. In hindsight, it is easy to imagine how he knew. My parent’s tireless eyes roamed the beach, counting heads to ensure everyone’s safety. Older sisters admonished the younger ones with shouts of, “Be careful!” and,” Don’t go too far!” Younger sisters frolicked with carelessness that sadly disappears with age. Our familial roles were very well-defined and apparently transparent to a man of his expertise.
The tiny strip of land that became my family’s home isn’t speculated to exist in five years. Not only is the next large hurricane predicted to submerge the tiny houses that fleck its coastline, but the violent surge will also wash the entire island out to sea. Although the survival of this picturesque island is uncertain, one detail of our vacation has already been altered: my family. As ever-changing as the ocean we played in, the family dynamic is fluid and flexible, roles evolving as limitations become both larger and smaller for the individuals that comprise it. If the psychologist we encountered on Dauphin Island, Alabama were to observe us again, he would discover something a bit new, a bit different, yet timeless nonetheless.
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