Daughter relishes island tradition

Thanks to Bill Dix of Hilton Head Island for sharing a glimpse into the heart of Hilton Head.

"My five children and their families have been coming to Hilton Head for the first week in July for more than 25 years as a family reunion," Bill writes.

"They have their own units at The Island Club, and it is the highlight week of the year for me, my wife, Nancy, and the 25 to 50 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and dogs who come.

"One of my children, Laura Knauff, wrote this blog and, to me, it tells what makes our island so wonderful. It brings tears to my eyes as a 15-year resident."

"In My Mind I've Gone to Carolina"

By Laura Knauff

Is it too soon to start packing for our beach vacation? We leave on July 1. I guess it's too early to pull out the suitcases, but it's never too early to begin anticipating. That time on Hilton Head Island is, by far, my favorite week of the year. I look forward to it more than Christmas morning, spring break or Mother's Day.

Bob and I have been going there for close to 20 years, but the tradition was started years before that by my mom and older siblings, who began their annual trip close to 30 years ago.

When they first started vacationing there, I was caught up in finishing college, working and getting married. I heard about Hilton Head, but was just too busy and, I'll admit, a bit self-centered (as all young adults are) to take the time and spend the money to get there. Living in New York back then, South Carolina seemed like a million miles away. We had beaches on Long Island; why drive 15 hours to Hilton Head?

In 1991, a few years after we were married, Bob and I moved to Atlanta. Finally, there was no reason to miss the family vacation. We Only a five-hour trip by car, it finally was time to see what all the fuss was all about. And we have not missed a year since. Well, check that, we have missed two. One when I was nine months pregnant with Danny (I ended up calling Mom on Hilton Head to announce his birth), and one year I was dealing with a colicky infant (my dear, sweet Sam) and the family decided to try a new spot in North Carolina for a change of pace. They had a great time, but the next year went right back to Hilton Head and haven't looked back.

So what exactly is the fuss?

Well, the beaches are beautiful, certainly. The ocean water is warm, so much more comfortable than the chilly waves we rode growing up on Long Island. On Hilton Head, there is no need to inch your way in for a swim, grimacing as the water hits your belly for the first time. Just grab a raft, walk right in, and float your cares away.

There is so much to do, if you choose to have an active vacation. Fishing, jet skiing, biking, shopping. The kids love the trip down to Sea Pines, with the ride on the trolley, time spent on the playground shaded by the huge trees draped with moss, and a hike to the top of the Harbor Town Lighthouse (when it's not too hot to bear).

Then there is the fact that summer on Hilton Head is meant for families. In any parking lot you will see license plates from everywhere from Texas to New York, and you know that these folks probably make this same pilgrimage every year. Some babies have their toes dipped in the ocean for the first time here, and grow from toddlers to teenagers to adults, maybe continuing the tradition with their own children.

For me, mostly, it is about family. Take away the beautiful ocean, the sea breeze, and the view from the balcony of our condo, and it still is a magical place because it is the one week in the year that we can be together. We choose to commit to that regardless of what else might be happening in our lives. There have been years when it was nearly impossible to pick a week that worked with everyone's schedule. Negotiating, compromising, grumbling at one another, we would finally settle on a week and mark it on our calendars.

Family is precious, and with each passing year I appreciate more and more these bonds that ground us and remind us of all of our blessings. We are spread throughout the country and keep in touch by phone calls, e-mails and texts, but this one week is sacred.

There are barbecues, cocktail hours and family "meetings" held on the sand in a circle of beach chairs. There are sister jogs in the morning, starting at 7 a.m. before the sun is too high in the sky, and maybe a bike ride later for bagels. We have time to reconnect and renew, talk more deeply and with less interruptions.

It passes so quickly, from the joyful Saturday evening hugs at "lasagna night" to tearful farewells and "we ought to do two weeks next year" lamentations as we pack up to leave.

As we drive over the bridges with last glimpses of dreamy blue water and Lowcountry landscape, we return to our lives in different corners of the world. I always cry a little, sometimes for a few miles, but it helps to know we'll be back next year.

That is a promise we make to each other, and to this place that has captured our hearts.

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