by Lee Adams
The rumble of the thirty-five-inch mud tires came to a slow halt as I pulled up to the iron and brick welcoming gates of Parris Island, South Carolina. The five hours of vibrating ride that was filled with voluminous music to drown the sounds of the hardened tires was finally done, for now. I arrived in Parris Island, South Carolina around one o’clock in the morning. I had no idea what kind of terrain I was surrounded by and it seemed like I might be in the middle of nowhere. The last streetlight that I had seen was right outside of the military base gates. As I was granted access and passed through the gates, total darkness surrounded both sides of the road as I made my way down a causeway toward the headquarters building I needed to report to and stay the night in. I wouldn’t get to see the beauty that surrounded me until the following day.
I awoke to the sound of squawking birds and a military marching cadence in the distance. I had to lay in bed for a few seconds before I realized where I was. It still took a few minutes to register in my mind what my life was about to become. I had gone through nearly a year of training, but now I was where I would be performing my job. After donning my dress blues uniform, I located the headquarters office to get my orders signed and stamped. At this point, I still had not been outside. Everything was connected by hallways and double doors. With some stamped and signed paperwork in hand, I was directed as to where I would go next. The sergeant’s words were almost like music to my ears, “You can either walk or drive.” Those are the kind of options I appreciate. This meant that I would be able to walk to work everyday if I chose to do so.
I drove down a straight road that was flanked on both sides by palmetto trees. I always associated these types of trees with a tropical setting or a beach vacation, not a military base. I had to travel only about a half mile, but in that half mile I stopped twice so recruits receiving their basic training could cross the road. These young men and women arrived on this island the same way I did, late at night, in complete darkness, and not knowing what their outside surroundings looked like until the following day. For the next three years, this one road would be what connected my regimented life to the country outside of the island gates, the land of liberty.
After meeting many new faces, shaking some hands, and getting more papers stamped and signed, my workday was over. I had skipped breakfast and lunch due to my growing excitement of being in a new place. My body was telling me to get food, so after changing out of my uniform I decided to leave the base to see what sort of cuisine I could locate. Driving down the same road I had driven earlier that day, I came to the causeway I had driven across in the middle of the night, but this time I could see that water was nearly touching both sides of the road. I would later learn that what I was seeing was marshland and the water levels depended on the tide. The two-lane road I was on went through a set of gates and put me on a large bridge where I was driving over an intracoastal waterway. The sun made certain parts of the water glisten more than others. To drive over the water that surrounded the island that I would be living on was almost an unbelievable moment. The thought of living on an island had never entered my mind prior to being sent to Parris Island. I wanted to look at the water, but I also needed to pay attention to my driving. Glancing back and forth from the road to the water I was driving over, I saw three dolphins that had briefly breached the surface of the water. If there was this much beauty less than two miles from where I would be working and living, I couldn’t imagine what else I would see the further that I drove. Even though I was hungry for food, I think I was also hungry for more peaceful settings in my life, like the one that was stretching out before me.
I followed road signs that read “Downtown Beaufort.” My thought was any place that is downtown should have some food options. As I took a right turn onto Bay Street, a picture out of a calendar unfolded before me. Ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss lined the right side of the road and their limbs stretched over the roadway, creating constant shade. Behind the trees was a bay where a small marina housed sailboats. A large bridge in the distance connected the mainland to another island. There were a few parking spots along the street and I found a perfect one right underneath huge limbs of one of the old oak trees.
Prior to this day, I had never really considered how my surroundings smell when I exit a vehicle. Maybe the smells I previously experienced were not pleasant enough to remember. Opening my car door and stepping out onto the tree lined road brought on a new olfactory experience for me. There was a scent of magnolia, a hint of honeysuckle, a dose of salt, and a completely new smell to me that I would later find out that is pluff mud during low tide. All of these smells were mixed up together in a cooling wind that comforted my body and solidified a memory as I breathed in the low country air. It was difficult for me to place a name on this new scenery and smelling experience. Looking back, there is only one word to describe where my life’s road had led me, paradise.
BIO: The writing of Lee Adams can be non-fiction in a personal sense, but it can also be fiction filtered through the lens of life experience.
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