The Sandcastle Lady

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When Daniel from Dover, Del. wanted a romantic way to propose to his love, Lily, he remembered his favorite childhood summer building sandcastles. He googled “Sandcastle Lady” and found his teacher, Lynn McKeown, who was still at work in Lewes. Together they created a plan: He and Lily would take a sunset walk from the Lewes Public Beach to nearby Market Beach, where Lynn promised to have built a castle to fulfill his dreams.

Lynn spent two days crafting the enormous sandcastle, complete with distinct, clear lettering across the base – “Lily will you marry me? Love, Dan.” Spectators who had watched the creation gathered at sunset to enjoy the drama from a distance while an exhausted Lynn went home for dinner. Later that evening, Daniel got down on one knee, Lily gave him a big kiss, his parents emerged from the dunes with their cameras, and the witnesses gathered around with much rejoicing.

Lynn, a born artist, started building sandcastles when her children were young and the family was searching for something they all could do together that didn’t cost any money. Soon other kids along Lewes Beach began to join them. Lynn says, “I’m not all that altruistic, but became a teacher out of self defense because I wanted to make them creators rather than destroyers. Soon I was collecting and giving away sand toys so others could play and spread the joy. Like dropping pebbles in the water to see the ripples expand out, you never know how far they’ll go!”

These days, Lynn spends the entire month of August in the sand at Lewes, building, teaching, meeting and talking with people who stop by in large numbers to sign her logbook. They return summer after summer, and she is thrilled when people visit from miles away – most recently a family of four from Minnesota she met six years ago who thought she wouldn’t remember them. An older woman asked if she had an age limit when she invited “children of all ages.” When Lynn advised her that “they have to be old enough to be away from their parents and able to listen,” she replied, “I’m talking about myself, and I’m 85!”

“How did you learn?” is often the first question asked as onlookers marvel at the intricate details on walls, roofs and steps and the animals that guard the mote. Lynn says, “I look and listen to what the sand wants to do. This just happens to be my gift, but everyone has them. Don’t hide your gift under a basket. Give it away!” At night she ropes off the day’s creation with signs that read, “Sandcastles, Sculptures in Progress. Teaching Techniques and Sharing Tools. July 31-Sept. 2. Sandcastle Lady.”

Lynn often is asked to join competitions in Rehoboth. “Why would I want to do that?” she wonders. “I need serenity with the sound of birds and the sea to get into the zone. Here I can go slowly, practice, develop patience and be positive. Besides, I love to talk. If I could play in the sand all the time I probably wouldn’t have high blood pressure.”

Raised an Episcopalian, Lynn believes faith is all about the way you live your life as a witness to God’s love, and that it’s good for children to experience that from an adult other than their parents.

While she and the children work, she calmly explains, “Never dig a hole for your castle. First put water on flat sand to make a solid base. Then scoop your sand. Pack it hard to make the foundation strong, like the man who built his house on a rock.”

When a little boy complains, “Freddy’s copying me!” Lynn is quick to respond. “I’ll teach you all to be master castle builders with no envy,” she says. “I just ask that you share the techniques with your families and other people you love.”

When I remarked that we all need joy and christened her a “joy spreader,” she began singing a rendition of the St. Francis Prayer: “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is despair in life let me bring hope. Where there is darkness only light and where there is doubt true faith in you. Oh Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.”

Then with a twinkle she added, “Grant that I shall not so much teach as be taught!”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary, creates and leads conferences across the country for bishops, clergy and church lay leaders, helping them to apply family systems concepts to their leadership in diocesan and parish ministry.

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