Fifty pelicans…maybe more. I watch as the unexpected birds land on the sandy shore of Oregon’s Netarts Bay. The hefty birds alight again to scope for fish, hover, dive straight down, beaks like arrows to spear their target, and swoop up again, their dipper-mouths full.

My 90-year-old father, who still calls me Kimmy even though I’m 55, sits bundled in coat and gloves on a warm day, while the rest of us are in shorts. We are on our first family vacation since the pandemic began. The blazing fire built into the hole I’ve dug into the sand adds more warmth to our gathering.

My grandchildren run on the beach with our yellow lab, Goldie. “Princess Goldie!” my granddaughter calls over the roar of the waves and wind as she and her brother frolic, laughing after our furry human. The joy I feel is as immense as the love I see in my dog’s eyes.

The sand sloughs the old into the new, my feet soft from the touch of so many grains rubbing. It reminds me of the recent surprise of my father and mother rekindling companionship, sloughing off fifty years of divorce into something new. I watch them as if I’m a time traveler, only now understanding how they first fell in love.

They both lost their long-time partners in 2018. I spent too much time in emergency rooms with my step-father, who died that year, along with my dad’s partner. It’s morbid, but I think it was a gift they all passed before the pandemic when we wouldn’t have been able to be with them in the hospital. They would have died alone.

The pandemic demanded more isolation for my grieving parents. They lived in separate states: Dad in Washington and Mom in Oregon. They each had their own brush with death. Dad had another heart attack, and mom battled debilitating vertigo and nausea, later diagnosed as Ménière’s disease.

“This is unreal,” my dad says as he sits next to my mother by our beach fire. He smiles and shakes his head in disbelief. “You made this happen, love.” He reaches for my hand.

“You helped,” I say. “Remember what you said when I asked you if you wanted to move closer to us?”

“I said…How about a month ago.”

We both laugh as my green eyes meet his brown. I see appreciation and love there, and I return it.

To the fire, I added a board that looks like it might have once been part of a dock. Maybe it was ripped away from its moorings and tossed in the waves, its edges smoothed by storms, then ejected onto the shore, like my dog might spit out a bad-tasting tidbit.

I didn’t expect pelicans today, and I never imagined my long-divorced parents would start dating. Still, here they are, the pelicans along with my octogenarian parents, holding hands on the beach with their family, their heads together as they share something funny.