By Linda Porter Carlyle
Hannah Maria Estevez held her breath. She looked from Papa’s twinkling eyes to Mama. Baby Paulo banged his spoon on the tray of his high chair, but Hannah didn’t even hear him. Would Mama let her go? Would Mama really let her miss a day of school when she wasn’t even sick?
Mama smiled her gentle smile at Hannah as she popped a piece of banana into Paulo’s mouth. Then Hannah knew. Papa was teasing her. He and Mama had already talked about it and decided. She could go!
A great grin covered Hannah’s face as she finished her cereal.
“I already packed a lunch for you,” Mama said. “Be sure to take your jacket. Sometimes it’s really chilly at the beach. And take an old towel too.”
Hannah carried her bowl to the sink and rinsed it. Her hands and feet were still in Jacksonville, but her mind was already at the ocean. She could almost smell the salty air. She could almost hear the squawking sea gulls.
Hannah and Papa waved goodbye to Mama who stood on the porch holding baby Paulo. Hannah felt very important sitting in the front seat of the car beside Papa. She had never gone on a business trip all by herself with Papa before. She sat up very straight and looked out of the window at the other cars on the road. She wondered if they were wondering where she was going.
Hannah looked at Papa. “Tell me a story,” she said.
Papa didn’t take his eyes off the road. Papa was a very safe driver. But Hannah could tell that his eyes were smiling. Papa liked telling stories as much as Hannah liked hearing them. “Did I ever tell you about the time my brother, your Tio Miguel, and I . . . ,” Papa began.
Hannah sank back into the seat and listened to Papa’s voice. She watched the little puffy clouds floating like balloons with no strings in the brilliant blue sky overhead. She looked at the tall evergreen trees. The forest crowded right up next to the highway as the road wound through the mountains.
Suddenly Hannah realized they were almost there. The two-hour drive to the ocean had not seemed like two hours at all!
Papa parked in front of the big gray building where his business meeting was. Hannah waited in the lobby for him to be finished. She studied the colorful fish that swam in the huge aquarium that was almost as long as one whole wall. Someday, Hannah thought, I will learn how to scuba dive. I will wear a big mask and have a tank of oxygen strapped to my back, and I will swim far down under the water and see fish face to face.
Papa came into the lobby, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s go to the beach!” he exclaimed.
Papa pulled the car well off the highway, and Hannah clambered out. She looked across the flat sand to where the waves rolled out of the ocean onto the beach. She smiled. Hannah and Papa took off their shoes and socks. They rolled their jeans up as high as they could. Then they trudged slowly through the deep, dry sand near the highway. The waves sounded louder. “Come and play,” they seemed to shout.
The closer Hannah and Papa got to the ocean, the easier it was to walk. The sand was more packed and solid, and their feet didn’t sink so far down into it.
All of a sudden, Hannah began to run. She jumped over long ropes of seaweed. She jumped over half a crab shell. She ran to the wet line that marked the place where the last wave had crawled across the sand before it slid back home into the ocean.
Here came the next wave. Hannah gasped as the cold water curled around her ankles. She took big, fast steps through the water back to where Papa stood with his hands in his pockets, watching her.
“It’s freezing!” she puffed happily.
“It’s always freezing,” Papa said. “I’ll race you to that big piece of driftwood,” he said.
Hannah and Papa sat panting on the big driftwood log. “Your legs are longer than mine,” Hannah complained. “You always win.”
“Well, I win now,” Papa said, his eyes twinkling, “but when I am very old and shuffling along with a cane, you’ll probably be faster than I am.”
“I wish we could stay at the beach forever,” Hannah said dreamily. “I love the ocean!” She flung her arms wide as if she could hug the whole scene.
“That’s what I think being in God’s presence will be like,” Papa said. “We will love being there. There is absolutely no place we will want more to be. And the really good part is that we will live in His presence forever!”
Papa glanced at his watch. “I guess we’d better head home,” he said. He looked at the sand that covered Hannah’s bare legs and her rolled-up jeans. “It looks like I should have brought a vacuum cleaner to clean you up before you get back in my car!” he exclaimed.