LONG BEACH — For most, the Independence Day blowout on the beach is a time to let loose. For the Beeler family, of Columbia County Oregon, this year’s annual sojourn was a time to remember.
“It’s very overwhelming,” said Sarah Beeler, of Columbia City. In February, Jeffrey Beeler, her husband of nine years, died of cancer. He had been sick for a long time.
“Jeff was a big part of this,” Beeler said. “He loved fireworks.” For years, the Beelers had taken their three kids — and often foster kids too — on an Independence Day vacation in Long Beach. Friends and extended family frequently joined them.
Though they always stayed in a hotel or campground, the men would go to the beach early in the day to stake out a big square, make a fire pit and set up a canopy. When the beach got rowdy in the evenings, the older boys would carefully guard the little ones as they played; something that always filled Sarah with pride.
Jeff had just come home from a hospital stay in early July 2015. Sarah figured they’d stay home that year, but when the day came, the thought of skipping their treasured family tradition brought Jeff to tears.
“I said, ‘That’s it. We’re going,’” Beeler recalled. She packed everybody up and drove them to the beach in time to witness one of the biggest, wildest events in years.
The family knew it would be tough to celebrate without Jeff for the first time, but they wanted to honor him and keep the tradition going.
“We’ll have probably about 40 members of our family here on the Fourth. We spend a lot of money, and we have lots of fun,” Beeler said.
On Saturday evening the advance-team of Beelers relaxed around a bonfire. The adults watched as Jeff’s oldest son, Nick Sanders, helped the younger kids light smoke bombs and small fireworks. The Beeler’s little girl, Neveah, turned and ran the second she’d lit her fireworks. She squeezed her big brother’s hand in anticipation as she waited for the volley of crackles and sparks. Each successful ignition set off a new round of laughter, squeals and little victory dances.
Sarah Beeler’s relatives buoyed her up through a day filled with big emotions. It made her heart ache to celebrate Jeff’s holiday without him. It filled her with joy to see her children so carefree and happy in one of his favorite places.
The sky had been flat and gloomy all day, but in the evening, the clouds broke up just enough to let a glorious sunset through. Everyone — the woman snuggling a blanket-swaddled dachsund; the little boy gleefully flinging shovels of sand; Sarah, with tears in her eyes, and a smile on her lips — was suddenly bathed in deep, golden light.
“This is our place to come,” she said. “We love it here.”