I saw a grandfather take a scolding today and love it.

Besides relaxing in the sun by the sea, I relish the beach for people watching. I roam the sand like readers do bookstores, looking for something interesting. I can’t explain what that might be aside from a curious tap on the soul when I find it.

An older couple in Kansas City Chiefs chairs with two little girls hopping around “Finding Dory” beach towels made me pause. My grandparents passed away before I was born and the relationship between oldest and youngest family members enchants me, mostly because it looks like a magical tribe and partly because I can’t have it.

The girls were a vibrant pair, about 5 and 7 years old. In the time I set up my space, they’d asked their grandparents rapid-fire questions about the sand, seagulls, French fries and the size of the ocean. The waves were big, constant swells, cresting high and hurling surfers toward the shore like slingshots. Some slipped off and sunk into the churning water, boards flying overhead.

As the woman applied another coat of sunscreen on the children, the man stood up and stretched, his tan arms much darker than his torso, a few faded tattoos on both.  He pulled his wet suit on, the small commotion catching the kids’ attention. The older girl wriggled out of her grandmother’s grasp and rushed over to him.

“Grandpa, no! No!” she said. “You’re being dangerous, like Dory. Please! Nooo! No?”

Her voice went from shouting to squealing to pleading. She yanked his arm and tried to pull the suit’s zip cord back down, little gasps said tears were near.

He knelt beside her, propping the nicely waxed board on a knee. There was no lesson on water safety or lecture about a lifetime of surfing experience, only a tight squeeze, two kisses on the cheek, a tug of the ponytail and a few gentle pats on the back.

I did not hear what he said to her but I saw it. He stood up, arm wrapped around his board like an old friend, gazed at the ocean long enough to suggest he had not seen it in a while then speared the surfboard in the sand behind them.

The girl clapped her hands the wild way kids do when giddy with joy. Grandpa plopped down on the warm sand and granddaughter jumped on his back, small arms barely reaching around his neck.  The younger girl piled on and the man embraced them like he was physically freezing the moment in time.

I was there nearly four hours and the surfboard stood upright and untouched for the duration.  I have not seen “Finding Dory” but the title is a good clue she gets lost in the sea and courts danger, as noted by Little Girl #1.

The deal was negotiated so swiftly. Big waves exchanged for the devotion of two brand new little hearts learning how to trust and love. What a very good trade.

I collect and value words like jewels but I’m so captured by the power of action over spoken things. In film, it’s astonishing what actors can do without words. What I saw on the beach was a moving reminder of how one gesture can convey pages of the most emotional writing. I try to imagine scenes like that for my stories and hope for them in real life too.

What do you think about action versus words? Do you trust gestures to make important points or prefer to explain?

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