C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

A beachcomber on the seashore of life

The joy of the holiday season is in the gathering. The grief is in the parting.

Our New York daughter was with us for a week, and a splendid week it was. Her sister, the daughter here, took time away from her demanding work schedule to share those too-few precious days.

Again, for a short time, we were four at the meal table. And the long-vacant upstairs room had a lived-in feel.

Then a plane bore our dear visitor away, and left a hole in the world. And not just for us. The black cat, Scoop, who’d bonded with her and shared her bed, found his universe, too, disarranged.

I don’t mean to make too much of this. For isn’t it the normal way of lives?

But such ordinary goodbyes as ours, and the regret they evoke, bring into clearer focus the greater pain that must be suffered by those who send away cherished ones to duty in disordered, dangerous places from which the return is much less certain.

There’s a great deal in life about which I’m unsure. But one thing I know beyond doubt.

Never would I willingly surrender a son or daughter of mine to go halfway around the world to risk death or maiming in some politician’s war of choice.

For a war of unquestioned principle, or a war of national survival, yes. But not one undertaken on the basis of specious claims by politicians willing to manipulate facts to suit their ambitions.

In our case, the separation will be reasonably brief – two months, and part of a third.

Plans are made already to flee in March from the waning unpleasantness of winter and languish – all four together – on a wave-washed sunny shore.

It was 33 years ago that we first stayed on that island just off the Florida gulf coast. Our two girls were 9 and 10.

We came upon the Tween Waters Inn there by pure accident. Though it has since been much expanded and improved, it was old and weathered, a bit disreputable then. But there was magic in the cry of gulls and the sound of wind-driven surf just yards from the porch of our cottage.

The place claimed our hearts. And always it’s to there that we’ve returned.

For me, that stretch of southern sand has a particular meaning. For it was at the breakfast table in the original, somewhat marginal little cottage that I sat to write the first of what have now been 3,700 newspaper columns – the start of a journey of words that continues to this day.

As I began that initial piece, I had no clear idea of what direction the enterprise might take.

“The only plan,” I wrote, “is to examine, with curious eye and honest heart, some of the commonplaces and oddities cast up on the beaches of all our years.

“Beyond that, there are no promises. So let’s go down where the sandpipers run and see what, if anything, we might find.”

That’s what we’ll be doing again in March. And never has the net come up empty.