She was sitting alone on the beach under her umbrella, this pleasant looking middle-aged woman, reading her book and looking up occasionally at the brilliant blue Gulf. I watched her surreptitiously from my own chair for many minutes, imagining the scenarios that might have led to her being there.
I wondered if she, like me, has a husband who travels frequently leaving her to her own devices during the week. Perhaps she was a recent divorcée trying to find herself in the timeless rise and fall of the waves before moving on with her new single life. Maybe she was an international jewel thief, hiding out on Florida’s Forgotten Coast until she could find a place to offload her ill-gotten booty. Oh, the possibilities were endless.
Then, she spoke to me, “Come, share my umbrella.”
The temperature was 95°. I could hardly refuse an offer like that, even if she was an international jewel thief, so I picked up my chair and settled in beside her, instantly relieved to be out of the direct rays of the sun. I thanked her and for the next hour we chatted like old friends.
She was closer to my age than I’d thought when watching her from several yards away, and attractive in a gamine sort of way. Her name was Tammy or Tammie, maybe Tammi. I didn’t ask for a spelling, and she and her husband were spending the week camping near St. George Island. Her sister and brother-in-law were planning to join them later that day.
Tammy/Tammie/Tammi lives near Thomasville, Georgia, where they farm. They grow pecans among other crops. Her husband of 40 years had contracted skin cancer from spending many long hours working in the sun, so he stays in the camper during the day and comes to join her once the sun starts to set. It’s their routine.
She’s one of four children, three girls and one boy, and their father died when they were all very young. Her mother was a strong woman who kept their family together and raised good kids. Her husband’s family is very big and boisterous and fun.
I told her about Studly and me, our kids, and grandkids, and our many moves from state to state in our 42 years of marriage. How we hoped we could retire and live out the rest of our lives in Tallahassee, but how hard it is to be so far away from the rest of our family. I told her about my deceased parents and how much I miss them. I told her about my brothers and their families, and about Studly’s own boisterous family.
Soon it came time for me to leave. I thanked her again for the shade and also for the conversation. As I walked away it occurred to me that she hadn’t mentioned children, and I hadn’t asked if she and her husband had any. Surely the existence of children would have come into the conversation at some point. Still I wish I’d asked. That, and about the jewel thief theory. That could still be a possibility.