My grandmother’s dresser now sits in my bedroom at my parent’s home. It’s big and old and beautiful. It has a glass top with a piece of antique lace underneath and it feels fancy. That dresser is a part of so many childhood memories of summers spent at our grandparents’ home in Rhode Island. My cousin and I used to play dress up in my grandmother’s beautiful nightgowns. Mostly white or cream and mid-calf length, we’d don them and then dig around in her closet until we found a belt that we could wrap around ourselves three times to hold the dress in place.
In order to retrieve a nightgown from the dresser, I remember having to stand on my tippy toes, arm extended high overhead so that my fingers would reach just far enough into the top drawer to be able to grab a dress. Now I look at that dresser, and while it is quite large, I can’t imagine being so little as to have to stand on my toes to reach the top.
In early high school I got to tag along with my dad on one of his work trips to Hawaii. There was a big swell one day, so we drove up to the North Shore to see the surf. I remember feeling confused about why we were standing so far back on the beach watching the surfers, and then being so surprised each time a gigantic wave would rumble in and instantly the whole width of the beach would be covered with white water. I have vivid memories of the waves being fantastically huge – like walls of water coming from the horizon.
As I started traveling to Hawaii again, I looked forward to seeing a really big winter swell and wondered how the waves would look to me now. I wondered if this wasn’t another instance of standing on my tippy toes to reach the top dresser drawer. I wondered if time and my own growth would reveal an object much less sizeable than the one crystallized in my memory.
When talk of a weekend swell began, I got excited. We drove up to Waimea Bay in the late afternoon, walked onto the beach and were greeted by 20+ foot waves. Much of the beach was roped off and signs cautioned beachgoers against proceeding any further. Occasionally, a particularly large set would roll in and the lifeguard would announce on a loud speaker that everyone should back up an additional twenty feet. Mist perpetually hung in the air as the waves kept rolling in and crashing into the rocky shore.
Only a handful of surfers were out and as each dropped in on a wave, my mind was boggled by the ratio of the size of the person to the size of the wave. There was no doubt about it – these waves were just as big and powerful as I remembered.
The waves were also just as mesmerizing. The sensory experience is fixating – the continuous movement of the water, the sound of the waves breaking, the human effort in the midst of this natural phenomenon.
We stood and watched as the afternoon transitioned to early evening. One by one the surfers exited the water. The last fellow waited until just before the sun totally disappeared.
Thinking about that afternoon now, the bigness of everything is so vivid. The bigness of the waves and water, the bigness of the clouds and colors of the sunset. It’s comforting to know that some things, though experienced decades apart, can seem both familiar and extraordinary.