Glenelg? Mykonos? Venice Beach?
Port Willunga’s my favourite beach on the planet.
Sizeable sets of late-March waves roll in and it’s chilly when the first of these curling walls topples against our legs. The weekend straightens out in front of us. Max and I quickly tolerate the cold but then a rip drags us along the coast. I’m alarmed.
Max says, ‘We’re going north up the beach, aren’t we?’
‘Yes, we are, that’s right Buddy,’ I reply. ‘You’ve got a good sense of direction.’
‘I just sort of knew which way it was.’
Drying off on the dazzlingly white sand, we then set off towards the famed jetty ruins. I wonder how long until these are finally claimed by the wind, the sand and the water.
On the cusp of his thirteenth birthday, I remind Max that we were last by these wooden relics with his brother Alex. It was a few years’ ago on our way back from a Victor Harbor holiday. He recollects.
Plucking our way beneath the chalky cliffs, across the rocks and through the seaweed, we delve into our past. There’s talk of Bear Grylls. We know his documentaries well, used to discuss the narrative formula. Every Tuesday we’d watch one and have a home-barbequed burger.
I feel a pang.
‘Alex likes the ones set in the snow and ice, but I prefer those in jungles,’ Max says.
I propose, ‘Maybe we should watch some again, you know, for old times’ sake?’
Our weekend is about offerings and gentle explorations of our past, and our futures. As suggested by Claire, it’s a rite of passage, and I want Max to feel relaxed and loved. So far, Year 8 has been rough. I’m worried but hope together we can command our boat through the storm.
At the headland we turn around.
In the Aldinga pub, we’re perched at a tall table on high stools. It’s teeming with families, but we’re cocooned in a corner. In tribute to Bear we have burgers. A significant occasion, it washes over me like rain.
Back at our apartment we chat in the Balinese hut, all bamboo and blonde light. Max is invested and appreciative. The sky is smeared with the white dashes of screeching cockatoos. The sun’s now sinking, and it’s been a terrific afternoon. I’m thrilled.
My world shrinks to Max while I again try to open up his like a flower, encourage him to see the adult opportunities for travel, for work, for life. It’s both a privilege and a fearsome burden.
Sunday morning and we drive onto the wide, flat beach at Silver Sands. A sign demands our speed must be at walking pace and this suits me. I ease down our windows, let in the salty breeze. Invite in the quietening, deep sea.
There’s many joggers and dogs. Cars are sprinkled along the beach. I pull up and turn off the engine. We talk of New York, Paris, Salt Lake City and basketball. Max loves the NBA. Speaks the language fluently. He asks me for my all-time top 5 basketballers.
‘Michael Jordan.’ I think back and rattle them off. ‘Larry Bird. Kareem Abdul- Jabbar. Magic Johnson. Dr. J.’
‘Dr. J,’ Max repeats. He smiles. I do too.
This extends to a moment, a sharing, and we both silently acknowledge the cool of his name. I remember him from when I was Max’s age. A keen student of basketball history, he knows him too. Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving, was a star for Philadelphia in the 70’s and 80’s.
It’s just a name, but it hangs warmly in the beachy air, and we connect.
Within the weekend the heavens present as a comforting character in our story. The gentle blue atmosphere of late summer affirms, and like a wise old priest, encourages our conversations. The beaches, the dark-green vineyards, the twinkling ocean, all seem to be attending to our confessionals.
Packing the car, I’m suddenly awash in a tumble of loss, fear, and happiness. I pause and take a slow breath. Aldinga has been an escape while also a glimpse into the next decade.
I tremble and trust it looks promising.