January 24, 2021

Heather, Patrick, Jonathan and Michael Up a tree at Jekyll Island, GA, 1976


It was a vacation unlike any others—a week at the beach with Anne Cunningham and her sons Michael and Jonathan.  We were trying to find our footing as single mothers with two young children while working as department heads (she in Physical Therapy, I in Medical Records) at Providence Hospital. We’d gotten better acquainted over the last few months, and Anne said, ”Let’s take the kids to the beach together!”  It sounded like a good idea—and then she said we really must go to a beach I’d never heard of, where she and her family had always spent vacations—Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Beach trips were rarer for me—and my limited experiences had been in the Carolinas, Texas, and Florida.  I had been to Tybee Island near Savannah, but this Georgia beach was a very different landscape.  From my first glimpse of the beach, I was struck by its rows of gnarled trees.  They were twisted and bent from exposure to the coastal winds—but added a unique beauty to the landscape.  They looked like they belonged there—and had adapted to what might have been a strange environment for trees.

We carried coolers of food and took turns cooking dinner at our motel cabin near the beach. We talked about our challenges and hopes for our children and our jobs.  We were both Athens girls (Anne from Athens, Georgia and I from Athens, Tennessee), very different in many ways, but united in a determination to overcome our hardships. Anne called Heather “a princess” and she climbed highest in this Jekyll Island tree as she, Michael, Jonathan and Patrick spent time together on the beach. 

Our two families were in a strange new landscape—and sharing stories and beach time and meals helped us adapt and belong.  We weren’t doing it alone after all. 

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