Summer is winding down quickly. Our family has just returned from the annual pilgrimage to the ocean.
It brings to mind memories of the beach from decades ago, when things were so very different ... or perhaps, not as different as one would imagine.
She is always the first one in the ocean, letting the edge of the wave numb her feet. Then a step deeper, and another step, slowly numbing her legs, letting her hands dangle in the deepening water, always sizing up the incoming waves.
Yes, this is the right wave.
She dives in and relaxes into the cold world of the sea, surfacing with a smile and a joyful shout: "Come on in, kids! Let's ride a wave together."
She remembers her daughter throwing herself into the waves at age 2. The lifeguard is so astounded at this little girl's audacity that he and his wife invite the whole family for a picnic that night.
The next year her son stands at the approaching edge of a wave, and beckons, "Come here, come here." And the wave does "come here," and he shrieks with joy.
All the years of returning to the sea -- the sea, which always gives her a feeling of coming home as she rides a crashing wave to the sand or rests in the billows.
The family grows, and soon there are six grandchildren to be taught how to catch a wave at just the right moment. Body surfing, inflatable surfing rafts and, finally, boogie boards. Everyone takes turns, learning the power of the sea and the deep quiet when you dive beneath the waves.
"Just one more wave."
She is always the last one out of the water!
She carries her chair to the beach and places it under the canopy.
The floppy hat, the white cover-up and sunglasses are protection from the blazing sun of this more Southern beach. She sits next to another grandmother, and they laugh as they watch the antics of the 25 family members who are cavorting in the ocean.
There are so many memories of the 47 years they have been making this annual pilgrimage. Now it appears she is content to sit and watch.
But wait ... she is taking off her floppy hat and sunglasses. Now she is standing and shrugging off the sun shirt. There she is striding down the steep beach. She stands in the lacy fringe of the incoming wave for a second and then moves deeper.
Oh, look who is coming in from beyond the breakers -- a tall man, purposefully moving through the crashing waves. He comes and stands beside her.
Could it be that same small boy who beckoned, "Come here, come here"? Yes, I believe it is!
And who is this woman coming in on her other side? It has to be that audacious daughter! She smiles at each one of them and then turns to size up the waves.
Yes, this is the right wave. She dives in, and so do they. There they are now; you can see them riding a wave together. Look how they are grinning at each other.
"Just one more wave!"
They will probably be the last ones out of the water.
Jean Peterson of Churchill, a retired schoolteacher, can be reached at email@example.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Especially welcome at this time of year are "Back to School" essays, containing best, worst and most interesting memories of kindergarten through college experiences; or "Steelers Nation" essays describing how black-and-gold football fandom may have created some special bond. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published August 24, 2012 4:00 AM