We’re at Hotel Breakers in Corpus Christi. It’s the late 1950’s, and I’m nine years old.
Every summer, when Daddy’s vacation rolls around, we hop into our Buick rag-top and spend a couple weeks here. The Breakers, with its private beach and fishing pier, is my idea of heaven.
I don’t think Mama and Daddy ever make reservations, but, like magic, there’s always a room waiting for us. From the minute Daddy gets out of the car, I cross my fingers and press my nose against the car window and watch for him. When I see him come out to the car, room key in hand and with a porter following him, I bounce up and down on the car seat.
“Oooh, goody!” I shriek in Mama’s ear. “Daddy got us a room!”
Every day, on the pier, Daddy shows me how to fly-cast. Standing there, rod and reel in hands, I wait quietly, line in water. All of a sudden, I feel a tug. My rod bends! Holding my breath, I jerk the rod to set the hook, like Daddy has taught me to, and start reeling in my first catch ever: a tiny angel fish. As it flips and flops around on the pier, Daddy’s red face beams.
“Hey, Kimmie, look at you!”
I watch him cut the fish off the line and toss it back in the water.
“It’s only a baby,” he explains. “Let’s toss it back to its mommy.”
“Oh, Daddy,” I gasp, between shivers, “My heart is pounding!”
While my daddy spends hours out on that pier until the July sun broils his bald head medium-rare, Mama and I hang out in the coffee shop, sipping crisp, icy-cold Seven-Ups until he wanders in, salty, sweaty, tackle box, rod and reel in hands — bursting to tell us about the sting-ray he caught.
Fishing done, it’s time for us to wash the salt off our bodies and get dressed for dinner. Daddy in his short-sleeved cotton shirt and pressed khaki pants, and I, in my yellow bee-pattern sundress and white sandals, chat with the other guests on the hotel veranda until my mother joins us. Her white sheath shows off her bronzed tan. Her bare arms smell like sunshine.
Every night, at our favorite seafood place, the Ship Ahoy, I order the same meal: shrimp cocktail, grilled red snapper, and a baked potato.
After our dinner, we take a drive along Shoreline Boulevard. The oleanders on the trees look like white Hostess snowballs.
Hotel Breakers is a neat place to explore. My new friends, Kathy and Linda, whose parents are staying on the floor below us, talk me, a scaredy-cat, into checking out the top floor of the hotel where there are no guest rooms. Tired of roaming the hotel, we chase each other up and down the stairs, pester the elevator operators, and read all the comic books displayed in the gift shop.
At night, before Mama and Daddy go to sleep, they raise the window, near my cot, to allow soft sea breezes to caress my face. Hearing the waves lapping onto the shore and the even breathing of my sleeping parents, I drift off within minutes.
Now, decades later, I return to The Breakers, the sandy pier, the salty waves, the sun-sprayed beach. It’s where I go to unwind, de-stress.
It’s my happy place.