I wanna go back to the island,
Where the shrimp boats tie up to the pilin’.
Gimme’ oysters and beer
For dinner every day of the year and I’ll feel fine.
I’ll feel fine.
I wanna’ be there;
Wanna’ go back down and lie beside the sea there,
With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine
And I’m a’ chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine
— Jimmy Buffett, Tin Cup Chalice
Just a month ago, I spent hours alongside the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The water was blue and so crystal clear that you could see the coral beneath its cloudless surface. The sand was fine gold, the breeze was gentle and soothing and the beach chairs were splendid and inviting. I could not have anticipated the utter and absolute breathtaking beauty of the Bahamas. There, in Lacaya, at a Radisson resort we sat, my wife of these almost six years and I, thumbing through our books and baking in the Bahamian sun alongside a gorgeous, meandering pool and pristine sea. The next day, in Nassau, the story was much the same. Even the industrial port from which we departed on a decrepit water taxi to Paradise Island and the famous Atlantis Resort featured splendidly clear waters and welcoming locals.
Still, however, my heart yearns for a place with far less beauty but much more meaning.
I’ve been to Paradise Island, but I long for Jekyll.
It is silly, I know. Only these few weeks returned from a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to a tropical paradise, and here I am pinning for a place that, I swear, smells like my farts. (Really. It does. That’s how my wife knows it was me. “Did you fart? It smells like Jekyll.”) It’s old, rundown, and the water is tinged the shade of brown that would be familiar to people who have lived or worked within sight of a cesspool.
But I’m not alone in my longing for the crusty sands of Jekyll. Just last week, my wife asked if I thought we should go down this year. Her question is ripping my soul asunder, because the obvious answer – “Hell yeah!” – is less obvious than it ordinarily would have been.
She’s in school, pursuing her graduate degree in nursing. Money’s tight. Time is scarce. My dryer has been screeching for a month because I’ve had such limited opportunities to attempt a repair. I can only cut grass every two weeks, owing to her school/work schedule on weekends. It’s all I can do to do what I’m doing.
Still, that quaint barrier island beacons me. I know that 90 percent of my affection for the place is owed to nostalgia – it’s where my family vacationed when I was a kid, and it’s where I’ve enjoyed some of the happiest times with my wife.
See, there’s a motel down there – it’s called the Oceanside Inn and Suites. It’s just an old roadside motor lodge, dating from decades past. It’s old and threadbare, but it’s clean. The showers are stained with age, and not want of cleaning. And they have these rooms, called Lanai suites, which look out over the pool and the beach at the same time. You can get one on the ground floor, with a patio door that opens right out onto the ground with an easy stroll to the beach, but I prefer the ones on the second floor, where a balcony elevates you so you can see over the dunes to the ocean and vistas beyond.
And the thing about Jekyll is, once you’ve been once, there’s really nothing else to do but sit on the beach and watch the tide come and go. There’s a small putt-putt course, a great historic district and some small shops and restaurants, but that’s it. The island boasts some renown for its golf courses, but that’s not for me. I’d rather walk the beach and look for shells than walk the greens and look for balls.
Ashley and I have been several times, but the details of all those trips rather run together. I know the first time was very special, because I’d always wanted to take someone I loved down to show them how much of me comes from the small space of time I’ve spent on that sandy spit of land. I remember once we went when it was so windy you couldn’t leave your folding chair on the beach to wade into the water for the chance that they would be carried off in the breeze. And once, it was mating season for some small, black bugs that didn’t bite or sting, but swarmed everywhere, mounting each other.
But I also remember days spent out on the beach, just sitting in our folding chairs with our books, watching the seagulls hover in the wind. Waking up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean. Eating fried shrimp for lunch and dinner every day. Sitting out on the balcony with a pipe, a beer and a box of chocolates. Wandering around the seaside village on St. Simons until we found this great local restaurant with the most scrumptious coconut shrimp. Strolling through the “Millionaires’ Village,” wondering what ghosts were watching us from the dark windows above.
There’s a package store on the island, an IGA and a few restaurants. That’s all I need. Beer, booze, food and beach. A bottle of bourbon and a big Jacuzzi tub in the Lanai suite, with the lights off and the blinds open so I can see the moon reflect off the water.
It’s calling me. It’s calling my wife, too. I want to go. It’s so hard to stay away. But, I feel like this is one of those tests, where you offer a kid one marshmallow now or two if they abstain for a minute. I want to go, but I want to go right. Not for a long weekend, but for a long week. I want to go and be there until I’m bored with it, until I’m ready to go home. That’s a good vacation.
Maybe next year. October, when the crowds thin down and the only other occupied table at Latitude 31 is a group of old women sipping martinis and laughing a bit too loud. The ocean will still be warm, but the heat will have broken for the fall. It’ll be time for our anniversary.
But, then again, if you’re determined enough, who’s to say you couldn’t talk your way into all three of those marshmallows?