We live in southeastern North Carolina about an hour’s drive from Wilmington, NC. Wilmington is a very historical town full of Revolutionary War and Civil War history, not far from the ocean. It’s also near Fort Fisher, one of the last forts to fall in the south during the Civil War. When it fell Wilmington became fully occupied by the Northern troops and all the southern supplies were cut off. Wilmington is also full of good places to eat, fun places to go, and an historical district that we always loved to go to by the Cape Fear River front called The Cotton Exchange. It gets its name by the cotton that came in and out of the area when cotton was king around the area. Now it’s full of quaint shops, eating places, bars, and a nice area called the River Walk. Nice strolls along the Cape Fear river can be made as you watch the boats go back and forth on the river. Looking out from the Cotton Exchange area, you can see the Cape Fear River bridge that crosses over The Cape Fear River to get to Wilmington.
When our daughters were little, right on through our whole family life, we made many, many trips to Wilmington. We all loved Wilmington, especially The Cotton Exchange. Many a day we walked through the shops and unique places there. You felt as if you were transferred through time. Many of the original buildings of olden days still are there and most have been revitalized into usable businesses. I love places like this and so do my children.
When my girls were little when we’d take off to Wilmington, about halfway into our hours’ drive we always drove past a company to the right that sold rocks of all sorts; decorative rocks, gravel, and just rocks you could use for anything I suppose. Always, always, there would be piles of rocks, but there was always this one pile in particular, always in the same place that was so high and inviting looking. I think it was gravel. Kaitlyn once said when she was tiny that she would love to be able to climb that rock pile and from then on it became Kaitlyn’s rock pile. Every single time we passed this place we would all say “there’s Kaitlyn’s rock pile!” Sometimes the pile would seem to be as high as the heavens, sometimes it was just a tiny pile and everything in between. Even when Kaitlyn had long moved away from home, if any of the rest of us ever passed that pile we would say, “There’s Kaitlyn’s rock pile!”
During the last year I noticed that the pile was never replenished like it always has been before and it dwindled away to nothing after a time. When Kaitlyn was home this last time during Easter, the week before she died, she and I went to Wilmington and we looked at the rock pile as we drove past. There were no longer any rocks. I told Kaitlyn I guess that was the end of her rock pile. She said she supposed it was. But it was rather sad.
All of our visits to Wilmington also included going over the Cape Fear River Bridge. From the time Kaitlyn was a little girl she would always say, “Ok everybody, when you get to the beginning of the bridge, start holding your breath, and let it out at the end, for good luck!!” And she would start counting down before we got to the beginning, “One, twooooo, threeeeee……three and a haaaaalf……” We would all suck in our breaths very loudly at the beginning and feel like we may explode by the end of the bridge and let it out, again, very loudly as we crossed the end and we all laughed. The very last time Kaitlyn and I crossed this bridge when she was home for Easter, which was the very trip I talked about above, she did this. She said for us to hold our breaths just like always. It was just me and her, and we did, and we laughed as always when it was over.
See, Kaitlyn was like this. Growing up she always did these special things, these inside jokes, little things we always did, that were just special like the special person she was. And even though the last time we did these things, she was a fully mature, 23 year old woman, going to medical school, she always still indulged my need to still be my little girl even when I didn’t ask. For me and for her these memories were dear, and no amount of being “grown up” could ever let them go away. She was never too good or too grown up to take pleasure in them. She was special that way. Then we would resume talking about the ways of the world and the universe and all the science and adult things we would talk about, but she could revert back to my little girl at will.
For the rest of my life I will look over to see if that rock pile is back, and Kaitlyn, I will always and forever, hold my breath across that bridge.