Tybee Island

I was a kid. We were staying in my aunt’s upstairs bedroom in Atlanta, trying to make sense of our world after my father died. Daily life was getting tense because we lived in a household of many females.

It’s never a good idea to have several strong-minded women crammed into the same tiny house. It’s a recipe for an estrogen apocalypse.

My mother decided we needed a break from the family dramatics. We needed a break from grief. We needed to temporarily forget my father, the man who ended his life and dragged the memory of our family into the grave with him. What we needed was to feel normal.

Just for seven days.

So she rented a cottage at Tybee Island—about four hours southeast of Atlanta. The irony was, we were not beach people. I don’t know what kind of people we were, but we definitely weren’t the beachgoing type. I wasn’t the sort of kid you wanted to see clad in a bathing suit. I was chubby, pale, and built like the spokesperson for Pilsbury.

But when we arrived at Tybee, that all changed. We crossed the bridge arching into the little beach town, cruising at forty-five, and I felt my stomach tingle and my heart opened like a butterfly.

We stopped at a seafood shack for lunch and ordered grouper sandwiches. When the waitress placed the food onto the table before us, she had a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth and said, “This fish ain’t real grouper. The chef is a [cussword] liar. It’s tilapia.”

So we were off to a great start.

Our cottage was charming, and the city of Tybee Island was postcard pretty. We bought groceries at the IGA, we developed sunburns at the beach, we climbed the lighthouse tower, we ate ice cream until our pancreases begged for mercy.

One morning, I awoke to find my mother having coffee on our rental cottage porch, rifling through a stack of touristy flyers. She excitedly waved a brochure and announced that I was going parasailing.

“Me?” I said. “But I don’t wanna parasail.”

“You’ll love it.”

“But,” I pointed out, “I could die.”

“Yeah, but they have legal waivers for that.”

Until that moment, the most adventurous thing I had ever done was skip taking my Flinststone vitamins. Parasailing was above my pay grade. Nevertheless, my mother can be very persuasive about such things, so I donned my bathing suit and within a few hours, I was riding in a speed boat with the wind in my hair, wearing a life preserver that was designed to fit a Ken doll.

I’ve always been what you’d call a nervous guy. I don’t like taking unnecessary chances, so when the deckhand strapped me into the harness attached to 800 feet of rope connected to parachute, I began to hyperventilate.

“I really don’t wanna do this,” I announced to the people onboard.

“It’ll be fun,” the captain insisted.

“I could fall and die.”

“Nah,” he said in an assuring tone. “In all my years of doing this, that’s only happened once.”

It was too late to change my mind. When the deckhands began easing me skyward, I saw my two pasty legs dangling above a world of blue and I howled with terror.

“Help me!”

My mother, hundreds of feet below, gave me the “okay” sign and took photos with a drugstore disposable camera.

But after a few minutes my screaming stopped and gave way to pure wonder. The view from high altitude was stunning. Below me was the whole world. Not just part of the world. The whole thing. I could almost swear, looking at the horizon, that I could see the curvature of the globe.

Something happened to me. I started smiling. And laughing. I began randomly making “wooooo!” sounds and swinging my feet.

So in short, I guess it worked. I truly did forget about my grief up there. I was a human being again, even if only for a moment.

No, the magic feelings didn’t last forever, of course. Magic feelings never do. Life doesn’t work that way. The rest of my life was painted with all the usual troubles and hang-ups that follow a traumatic childhood and the suicide of a parent. Still, I never forgot that wondrous week.

And as I write this, tapping on my keyboard, my wife is driving our vehicle over the old bridge into Tybee Island. And I look like I just discovered teeth.

This is the first time I’ve visited this city in roughly three decades. And I’m feeling those same happy stomach tingles I felt long ago. My mother was indeed right. Even after all these years, Tybee Island is a beautiful place to forget bad things.

Even if only for seven days.


  1. Michelle Bethune - October 23, 2021 12:36 pm

    Isn’t Tybee the most special thing? I too discovered it after a trauma – a messy divorce. I was broke (like .56 cents to my name broke on the day of my divorce) with three equally traumatized kids. Tybee was the sweetest respite for us. We rode bikes, climbed that lighthouse, ate all the things and met the nicest people, who lived on the island. We made lifelong friends and I left with a renewed sense that all would be well. Tybee is the most special thing.

  2. Deb - October 23, 2021 12:40 pm

    Tybee puts a spell on you from the moment you cross that bridge! And, your mother? A very smart Mama.

  3. Virginia Russell - October 23, 2021 12:43 pm

    It’s changed a lot since my adolescence, but it’s still wonderful. We have been known to drive an hour and a half to have breakfast at the Breakfast Club, or lunch at the North Beach Grill.

    • Virginia Russell - October 23, 2021 12:44 pm

      Or both

  4. Suellen - October 23, 2021 12:47 pm

    I was a frightened child that grew up into a frightened adult. I’ve missed out on so much of life because I was afraid to let go and try it.

  5. Gayle - October 23, 2021 12:50 pm

    We enjoyed your show last night at the Tybee Post Theater! What a gifted storyteller you are. Thanks for being “real” and “authentic “.

    • Nancy Grinstead - October 23, 2021 4:33 pm

      Lucky gal❤️

  6. Heidi - October 23, 2021 1:05 pm

    We all need to escape sometimes. You & Jamie enjoy that beautiful, carefree island.

  7. Sue Adams - October 23, 2021 1:19 pm

    Yes it is! I wish I could see it again.

  8. Elaine Barrow - October 23, 2021 1:26 pm

    I hope your days on Tybee Island are sunny and sparkly, as the water there is this time of year. I enjoy your posts so much and love the way you express emotions that touch me in my soul. So sorry I couldn’t come to see you at the Tybee Post Theater last night to tell you so!

  9. dapeek43 - October 23, 2021 1:38 pm

    Sean your writing always lifts my spiritS. I Was always afraid as a child and I still am as a senior citizen. I think I’ll Rey parasailing the next time I’m at the beach!

  10. missusmux - October 23, 2021 1:52 pm

    Waiting for your message this morning with bated breath was well worth it. You always deliver. I laughed out loud several times, and my husband came around the corner and said “Sean?”. Indeed. Clever, descriptive, intelligent, funny and heartfelt all wrapped in one delightful column. Hope you and Jamie find the healing magic of this place together and discover teeth a lot over the 7 days time.

  11. Sue Isenhour - October 23, 2021 2:22 pm

    After my husband passed I had the same need to feel ¨normal¨ so my daughter, granddaughter and I went to a small town in Western North Carolina and shopped the vintage shops, arranged to ride horseback through the hills, ate greasy and yummy diner food, and held grief off for a few days. It was good and much needed. Your mother had it right.

  12. Bill - October 23, 2021 2:49 pm

    Sometimes we just have to break away! Way to go!

  13. Alan poling - October 23, 2021 2:59 pm

    My granddaughter and I REALLY enjoyed your show at Tybee last night!! Thanks for the wonderful show and I hope you’re planning on coming back to Tybee soon. If you need a place to stay, just say the word, we’ve got plenty of room and my wife and mother-in-law are both Southern trained cooks and make the BEST biscuits you ever wrapped your insides around. We live right up the road in Pooler, ‘cause it’s cooler in Pooler!

  14. Bill - October 23, 2021 3:04 pm

    Tybee Island is magic to everyone. A real treasure.

  15. DT - October 23, 2021 3:32 pm

    We were fortunate enough to be stationed in Savannah with the USCG for 4 years. Always enjoyed trips to Tybee and flying by the island on our way to JZI hoping to see Sandra Bullock hanging out on her balcony. We never did.

  16. Christina - October 23, 2021 4:20 pm

    I can picture you shedding the grief and trauma for a second while parasailing… hope this time is just as restful and restorative for you and Jamie.

  17. Suzi - October 23, 2021 4:32 pm

    Always hold on to the happy times🎈

  18. Susan R - October 23, 2021 5:01 pm

    Enjoy your time here. It is a wonderful place. I think u will notice a lot of changes. Nut the IGA is not one of them.

  19. Linda Moon - October 23, 2021 6:10 pm

    I was raised by two strong females in the household and others close-by when the two in the house needed a break. Your mother was very wise to go to the island, and I’m smiling now in your world of wonder from the parasail ride! Enjoy your seven days. They will be wonderful.

  20. Norma - October 23, 2021 6:42 pm

    Thank you for this story. My husband and the father of my children also ended his life, and as you know, no one who hasn’t experienced the nightmare can understand it. Your mother was a very wise woman.

  21. Dwana Myers - October 23, 2021 7:20 pm

    I hope y’all go parasailing!

  22. Susan Marler - October 23, 2021 8:53 pm

    We used to go to Tybee with friends back in the 1980’s. Loved every minute. She recently died, but I could forget for just a while back on Tybee, her favorite place on earth.

    • Tom - October 24, 2021 3:06 am


  23. Denise Burgess - October 23, 2021 11:17 pm

    Sean, my husband and I left WV at 5 am yesterday to see your show on Tybee Island. It was worth every second of the drive. It was a joy to meet your beautiful bride. She’s so warm and genuine. You’re wonderful and we’ve been watching and waiting to see you perform and I’m watching and waiting for another show that we can get to and I’m bringing friends and family with me who can sing every word to all of those old Baptist hymns. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents! Denise and Mike Burgess.

    • Karen - October 23, 2021 11:32 pm

      It sounds wonderful.

  24. Cathy M - October 24, 2021 12:42 am

    I want to tell you that your mother is special. She knew y’all needed a break from grief and made it happen. Then she encouraged you to do something adventurous knowing that you were frightened. What a boost to a boy with a broken heart. I wish I knew your Mom. She is a Steel Magnolia for sure. Give her a big hug and tell her you love her❤️🙏🏻👏

  25. Karen Snyder - October 24, 2021 1:30 am

    I once had a friend who had a parasailing business, so I might have been able to get a bargain rate. However, coupling the fact I never learned to swim with the additional fact that heights sometimes cause my stomach to do barrel rolls… Sometimes it’s wise to recognize your limits.😉 I hope you and Jamie enjoy your time at the beach, whether you go parasailing or not.

  26. Deb - October 24, 2021 1:44 am

    My mom died 8 weeks ago; my heart hurts. This helped so much. Thank you.

  27. David S Doom - October 24, 2021 2:27 am

    For me it is Cape San Blas

    • Gaylr - October 24, 2021 2:00 pm

      Beautiful place spent 29 years in Apalachicola

  28. Iris - October 24, 2021 1:21 pm

    You never fail to describe it so I can picture it in my mind’s eye…sigh.

  29. DAVID A WILSON - October 24, 2021 4:15 pm

    Again GREAT writing & GREAT subject!!!

  30. Linda J Hendrix - October 26, 2021 2:56 pm

    Such a Wonderful & delightful memory. Having been raised in the concrete jungle of Chicago, it was at Tybee Island in the summer of ‘69, I experienced the sounds, smells & vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. I, now, would love to return. Thanks for the memory.

  31. Nancy - November 7, 2021 5:16 am

    I missed this one when it was originally published, and just started reading it a minute ago.
    I want you to know that I read ‘a house full of many FEMALES’ as ‘a house full of many TAMALES’!! It stopped me in my tracks. I guess I’ve lived in San Antonio too long!! Lol.
    Going back to finish reading now!😉

  32. dondavies686 - July 3, 2022 12:22 pm

    Oh, how I hope I could return there on my next Savannah visit! After that, I’m going to the beach and eating and drinking at some of Tybee Island’s bars and restaurants! Would you be interested in making a video recommending the best beach restaurants? I’ve already found a few on https://visittybee.com/beaches, but I’m always open to new ideas!


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