When we got married, we had no money. We spent a total of $300 on the wedding and reception, combined, and even that was incredibly stressful. Her ring came from a pawn shop. I didn’t have a ring for the first year we were married – we couldn’t afford it. A friend bought Renee’s dress, and another friend gave us their house for the reception.
It was really, really, tight.
So when a friend gave us the use of their condo in Carolina Beach for a week so we could have a honeymoon, it was a dream come true. At the wedding we had been given nearly a thousand dollars in cash from guests who would come up and slip folded bills in our hands, so we had the money to enjoy ourselves that week.
That was the week we fell in love with Carolina Beach.
It is a small beach town, with cheesy bright colored buildings, seasonal shops, restaurants of variable quality, and a pretty nice boardwalk along the dunes. That week we found new restaurants we liked, we walked along the beach for hours, went to the nearby aquarium, rode the ferry, and slept with the sliding glass door open so we could fall asleep to the crashing of the waves.
The Deck House is a restaurant in a converted church just off the main drag, and we ate there the first night we were in town at a friend’s recommendation. It felt decadent to eat there, and we instantly fell in love with it. I don’t think we have spent the night in Carolina Beach since without eating there at least once.
Next door is Kure Beach with a massive wooden dock that juts out into the ocean, where old men fish and the seagulls wait patiently for bait droppings and fish cleanings. We learned that if you bought popcorn in the bait shop, the seagulls would flock to you like you were St. Francis and that it would delight any small children who happened to be nearby.
There is a small island bookshop that sold overpriced used books and a few new books, but we believe in supporting what we want more of, so we always would spend an hour or so in that shop, and always buy a book or four. It is next door to the fifties themed diner, and just down the street from the coffee shop.
Up the road a few miles is the dock where I scattered a friend’s ashes, and down the road is the causeway where I love to sit on the rocks and watch the ferry go by while the waves lap at my feet.
We have been there probably 30 times over the last nine years. We have watched businesses change hands and improve, or fail. We have been there in every possible season, every possible weather. We learned that the week before Memorial Day is the best combination of affordability and seasonal shops being open, developed favorite restaurants and must do’s anytime we are there. We have even talked of moving there.
And now we are moving 12 hours away.
In some ways, moving away from there is harder than moving away from Raleigh. Carolina Beach was where we went to get away. It is where we went to relax, and where we began to be a family. We dreamed there, and we dreamed of there.
So last Thursday, we went one last time to say goodbye.
We ate at a restaurant we liked. We walked the boardwalk. We swung on the swings and talked about the future and reminisced about the past. We walked out on the pier and watched the waves and the seagulls. We bought a couple of used books. We got sunburned, ate donuts, watched the birds dart into the receding waves in search of food. Along the way, I wept some. Several times, in fact.
And then we drove the two hours home.