Anxiously waiting with my hands folded in front of me, I finally see her step out of the house and I almost don’t even recognize her. As she walks across the patio towards me, her radiant smile beams from ear to ear. Only then does it sink in, that this stunning young woman before me really is my baby girl. As she gets closer to me I can tell that she’s nervous, and she raises her eyebrows, takes the sides of her wedding dress in each hand and does a twirl, just like she used to when she would play dress up. “How do I look, Dad?”
Audrey had only seen me cry a couple of times in her life, and in this moment, standing at the top of the boardwalk steps behind the beautiful beach home we rented in Corolla, one of our favorite places on Earth, she would see me cry once more. I was looking at the most dazzling woman I had ever seen—besides her mother, of course, who Audrey thankfully resembled more closely than she did me. When she saw my eyes well up, she laughed sweetly, fighting back tears of her own. We both reached over to wipe each other's tears away at the same time, and shared a laugh before setting off down the stairs to the beach below.
“Are you ready, sweetie?” I asked as I tucked her hand into the crook of my elbow.
“I’ve never been more ready in my life, Dad,” she said as she paused and looked me right in the eyes. That was good enough for me.
Audrey met Todd while lifeguarding at this very same beach access five years ago. Corolla was one of our favorite vacation spots when Audrey and her sister Amy were little, so it was only natural that Audrey would later come to spend her summers between college semesters here—it became like a second home to her. When she met Todd here she said it felt like magic, because after all, this was the very same beach her mom and I got married on 30 years ago this September, barefoot and in love, much like the two of them are today. Getting married in North Carolina seems to be a family tradition. The beaches of Currituck are an important thread in the fabric of our family, and it has always been a dream of Audrey’s to get married here, too. When she met Todd and fell in love under the Corolla summer sun, she said she knew it was meant to be. And I’d have to agree.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, the first thing I noticed when we hit the beach was the warm sand beneath my feet, the soft breeze coming off of the ocean and the smell of that salty ocean air. Immediately, I was taken back to the many family vacations we spent on these same Currituck beaches. When Audrey and Amy were little girls, they were fascinated by the wild Spanish Mustangs that roam free around the area; then, in middle school, they learned to surf in the ocean behind our beach cottage; and finally, as teenagers, the girls spent the majority of their days lounging by the pool, or out on the beach with magazines and hours of girl talk. It always used to make me smile, seeing their two blonde heads close together, poring over something that had piqued their interest. Outnumbered, I usually fished in the surf on my own, which was always just fine with me. Seeing the girls having so much fun together was what I wanted from each vacation. And now, as I’m walking down memory lane, Audrey walks with me across this same warm summer sand, but this time down an aisle lined in seashells and flower petals, to marry the man of her dreams.
As we approached Todd standing at the bamboo altar, I noticed that I wasn’t the only man Audrey would see crying today, and as I kissed her cheek and put her hands into his, his tears made it a little easier to give my Audrey away. Just a little. The altar was draped in a flowing white linen decorated with orchids, and the sound of the surf softly crashing just behind it brought my mind lovingly back to memories of a small Audrey racing along the water’s edge, arms outstretched in the wind pretending to be a beautiful sea bird, dancing an imaginary tightrope where the waves meet the earth. Before I step back to take my seat I look at her one last time, and she’s got that same smile, as if she was also back there in that moment too, free as a bird and incandescently happy.
As I turn around to take my seat beside my wife, I scan my eyes over the gathering of our family and friends, each one overjoyed to be sharing such a beautiful moment with us. Many are staying together with us in the beautiful oceanfront event home we rented for the week. The house, with plenty of room for everyone, was just right. After this, we’ll head back to it for the reception in the backyard, where views of the beach and a large pool set the scene for food, drinks and dancing. Plus, having everything in one place allows our group the time to celebrate the meaning of our festivity and the chance to reconnect with each other, too, something that has always been a big deal to our family. My wife grabs my hand, snapping me back to the moment, and gives me a gentle kiss on the cheek once I’m seated next to her.
“You did good, honey,” she whispers before turning back toward the altar.
As I gazed at my lovely wife, I thought, “No, we did good.”
I now look back to my daughter, and just as I do, the sun behind us peeks through the clouds and beams light across Audrey and Todd. As the rays light up Audrey’s sun-streaked hair, it takes me back once more to those happy Septembers when she would come home from lifeguarding on the Currituck Outer Banks for the summer, her blonde hair even lighter from her weeks in the sunshine. The same sun-kissed halo was shining over her beautiful, joyful face now. I once again thought ahead to after the ceremony, how breathtaking Audrey will be taking her wedding photos at the iconic Whalehead house in Historic Corolla Park, a picturesque, romantic backdrop and a place she has dreamed about having her wedding photos taken since she was a little girl.
Watching Audrey grow up on these beaches, and now creating a new family of her own in this same place, everything seems to have come full circle. And although our family is changing and growing, one thing will always remain the same: the beaches of Corolla will hold a special place in the hearts and history of our family, and we will come back here to celebrate some of the best memories we’ve made in our lives. Right where we made them.