Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

Jul. 19, 2014 @ 11:46 AM

Every summer, my brother-in-law, Gregg’s, parents rent a house at Emerald Isle, and Gregg’s whole family – including my sister, Susan, and their three teens – comes down from Ohio for a week’s vacation.  Being related to me, Susan normally has the same luck that I do on vacation; the kind of luck that brings not just rain, but hurricanes, evacuations, car breakdowns, and visits to the emergency room.  Yes, Gregg’s parents are always thrilled to see Susan arrive.

On their way from Columbus to the beach, Susan’s family always stops overnight at my house in Chapel Hill, which is a lot of fun, because usually I’m not there.  (I spend July in the mountains, in a desperate attempt to escape temperatures that rival the surface of the sun.)  But, it’s not like I don’t leave a key in my hide-a-key rock or anything.  And, I leave clean sheets on the beds and a bottle of wine.  Susan and Gregg appreciate the clean sheets, and after eight hours in the car listening to endless whining, arguing and ear-splitting music, I know the kids appreciate the wine.  I also leave them directions to different places for dinner, because I have schlepped all my food to the mountains, and my cupboard is bare.  (Please, they’re still spending a week at the beach!) 

This year’s story takes place this past Tuesday, their third day there.  It was 10: am, which is hideously early for those under 30 to be awake, so the only ones on the beach were Susan, Gregg, and Gregg’s cousin, Lynette.  Susan and Lynette were sitting, chatting, enjoying the sun and sea.  Gregg was playing golf.  (Apparently, he digs little holes and puts sticks in them with small pieces of paper towel stuck on top, to signify flags, then “plays a round.”  He can do this for hours, Susan says…but, he’s still a good husband and father, Susan says.)

The only other folks on the beach, just a few houses down, were a mother and her two children, a boy around 10, and a girl about 14.  Suddenly, Susan and Lynette heard someone yelling.  This was annoying, so they chatted louder.  (Gregg was focused on his golf game; he wouldn’t have noticed if a giant lobster had crawled out of the surf and started salsa dancing.) 

Eventually, Susan and Lynette turned to see the young boy, only knee-deep in water, who seemed to be screaming for help from his mother.  Being compassionate mothers themselves, Susan and Lynette thought, What a sissy boy!  Then, they noticed that the older girl wasn’t around, and they saw a head bobbing pretty far out in the choppy water. 

Susan told Lynette to call 911, then leaped to her feet, and began to run down the beach.  Susan is approximately 5 feet tall, and weighs approximately 100 pounds.  (We have never been close.)  So, I’m sure the sight of her coming to the rescue wasn’t particularly reassuring, but on her way inside, Lynette ran over one of Gregg’s little golf flags, which irritated him to attention, and he went running behind Susan.  They heard the little boy crying that his sister was caught in the current.  The mother was wading in, yelling to her daughter to relax, stay calm.  (FYI:  this is not particularly helpful to someone who’s being sucked into the depths of the Atlantic.)

Gregg threw off his sunglasses, tee shirt, and flip-flops and ran for the water.  Susan admired his white-knight instincts, but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of his drowning so early in their vacation – it would probably mean going home sooner.  But, Gregg’s powerful, he-man strokes took him to the flailing girl in minutes.  He said later he was tempted to slap her around a bit when he got out there, because she was hysterical – and because he’d been about to birdie the 6th hole.  But, he was able to calm her down and hold on to her as he made his way towards the shore. 

Halfway there, he came upon the girl’s mother, who had continued to swim out as she called for her daughter to relax, and she was now caught in the undertow herself and screaming hysterically.  Undoubtedly sighing and rolling his eyes, he grasped her as well, and hauled them both to the beach, where he waved off Susan’s applause, put on his sunglasses and headed back to the “course.”  Meanwhile, the 911 folks showed up, but all they did was take some notes and glare at Gregg for stealing their thunder. 

When their kids woke up, Susan proudly told them what had transpired. 

They said, “Wow…can we rent jet-skis today?” 

But, later that evening, the doorbell rang.  It was the young girl and her wise old mother, who’d brought Greg a lovely thank-you card – and a six-pack of Land Shark beer. 

Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker.  Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or by visiting her website at www.vickiwentz.com.