A Timeless Day at the Shore

THE birds start up at 6 a.m., and there are sweet rays of light outside. Part of me still tries to say that I'm an older woman, that I shouldn't have partaken in such childish things at the beach yesterday, but I've never been known to be a good listener.

My chair should be warm out on the sun deck by now. Taking my drink, I head outside. I nearly trip over the sandy shoes left to dry by the back door. The clutter could make me cross, but I'm glad that I built sand castles yesterday.

We had traveled, as we often do on Sundays, looking for places for the children to play. I had brought my book along, an ancient novel on castles and kings, so that I might sit and read in my ''matureness'' as the children frolicked like untethered colts.

But the day was glorious and playful. Like the beach. And something stirred in me, a past remembrance of play. With a look around at the golden stretch of inviting sand, I put down my book and moved closer to see what the children were up to.

My eldest daughter was building her own castle close to the waterline and calling it the Taj Mahal. She had been reading about the ancient place at school. I asked her why she built it so close to the incoming tide. She smiled, winked, and said something about living on the edge. I watched as she moved giant buckets of sand in order to build it higher, and I laughed at her vain attempts to get the family dog employed in digging at just the right spot.

My youngest daughter asked if I wanted to join her, and, like an excited new friend, I quickly agreed. We worked on a piece of monolithic proportions that I likened to the lost Mayan temple, but she wanted it to be the home of a princess called Leah. A magical princess hiding in the far sand tower, who could only be seen by her.

As the sun grew long, we gave our castles a rest and sat and enjoyed the sea air. The last hours of a fragrant summer day were passing. Where had the time gone?

But a sudden notice of the oncoming tide sent us back to building. My youngest daughter pressed on, trying to complete the tunnel around the perimeter. But the ocean was upon us, and as darkness quavered in the waiting moments before dusk, we gave up. The sea water was tickling our toes, and we laughed. It was soon approaching the time to leave, but the children moaned and whined and wished to stay a little longer. Their father was firm in his plans to leave until I moaned and whined a little, too. So we stayed and watched the waves roll in.

'' 'The time has come,' the Walrus said, 'To talk of many things....' '' And so we did. We talked of getting a better contractor for the next family sand mansion, and which of the five remaining towers the princess might be hiding in. We whooped and ahhhed as the ocean waves crept over the Taj Mahal.

Tourists passed by us closely, but I no longer worried about appearances. I imagined the adults looking longingly as they saw my sandy arms and legs. They secretly wished they had a child within them that would help build castles for invisible princesses, as we had.

We watched as the whole kingdom was swallowed and returned to the sea, to await the dreams of another builder, another time. My youngest brought home a bucket of sand in which the princess was hiding. She's going to live under my rosebushes from now on, or at least till the next time we go to the beach.

We laughed all the way home, and the man at the store where we bought ice cream remarked how radiant I looked. But it's what I felt that was so delicious. What I hope to feel every day from now on.

Now, as I wipe the sand from my eyes, I am tired but happy. My husband joins me on the deck. ''I creak,'' I say to him, and he shakes his head. ''No,'' he says softly, touching my sunburned nose. ''You glow, my little sand queen. You glow.''

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