In Slaughter Beach, we Murrays, arriving in our green 1964 Rambler wagon, and our grandparents, the Marshalls, both of Wilmington, rendezvoused every year with the Persingers (my aunt and uncle) from West Virginia. The Murrays and Marshalls always got there first, the Persingers several hours later.
One day in 1966, Uncle Jim Persinger, the family storyteller, arranged a treasure hunt for us children. It started with instructions printed on paper burned around the edges like an old pirate map. Of course, an X marked the treasure. We went in search of the booty.
Prior to arriving at an X in the sand, we noticed two large parallel marks on the beach. Uncle Jim informed us that the marks were left by a helicopter flown in by the governor, who had bestowed Golden Flounder Awards upon our family before departing suddenly. We were in awe.
Those vacations always provided each of the three essentials for happiness: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
So in 1992, when my brother Leith was to be married, it occurred to me that the treasure hunt was a perfect way to give Leith a surprise present while honoring our beloved Uncle Jim.
The plan was simple. Leith, carrying a trophy, would board a helicopter in Wilmington bound for Slaughter Beach. My cousins and I were to leave the beach to pick up Uncle Jim in Wilmington.
Leith’s journey aboard the helicopter was a scenic and emotional ride down the Delaware River and Bay. We managed to get Uncle Jim, unsuspecting, to the beach, to the very place where that first treasure hunt had ended 26 years earlier.
The helicopter then flew in at roof level and landed. When Leith emerged, he reached out to hand Uncle Jim the trophy that declared him the family’s Greatest Storyteller.
Uncle Jim just looked at us, big tears rolling down his face. The fantasy helicopter had finally landed at Slaughter Beach, and at that moment, we realized that the greatest treasure in our lives was the love our family shared.