I feel fortunate to have been a Navy spouse, because our family had the pleasure of living near the beach for nearly two decades. Other than a stint in D.C. and two joint tours in Europe, our Navy family was always stationed in coastal areas where we could access the ocean, if not see it right out of our base kitchen window. My Navy wife friends and I felt so superior, with our in-your-face nautical-inspired clothing and home decor adorned with anchors and whales and signal flags and boats, as if we were married to Captain Ahab himself. We pitied our poor Army and Air Force comrades, stationed in olive-drab Timbuktu, staring out of their base kitchen windows at grain silos.

“Bless their hearts,” we claimed, while clinking mojitos in anchor-embellished Tervis tumblers and sunning ourselves from the comfort of our beach chairs.

We never admitted to our landlubber counterparts that living near the ocean had its drawbacks. Like hurricanes, one of which dropped an 80-foot loblolly pine into the master bedroom of our first house in Virginia Beach, thanks to a little storm named Isabel back in 2003. And rip currents, which cause more than 100 deaths per year in the U.S., always prevented me from relaxing while my kids were in the surf.

But there’s a coastal critter that strikes fear in the hearts of every salt-life-loving Navy wife, even the ones with L.L. Bean totes obnoxiously embroidered with lobsters. In fact, this deadly ocean dweller frightens civilian and military Americans alike: Sharks.

The summer of 1975 was vividly imprinted on my brain. I was 9, and our family had traveled to visit my grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousins. Louisville, Ky., was the “big city” to my brother and me, so our cousins planned activities that weren’t yet offered in our small Pennsylvania town. Like cheeseburgers and Frostys at Wendy’s, and the new Steven Spielberg movie, “Jaws.”

The air-conditioned theater was frigid that hot July afternoon. I shivered from the chill and the creepy images on the big screen before me. Listening to the rhythmic “dun-dun-dun-dun” of the now-iconic movie score, we watched scuba-diving Richard Dreyfuss inspect a huge shark tooth he plucked from a hole in a sunken boat hull. Seconds later, the violin strings screeched when a severed human head floated out of the same hole — a classic jump-scare, effective to this day. However, my flinch was superseded by my father nearly jumping out of his seat and emitting a childlike scream, popcorn flying from his bucket.

I didn’t know it then, but the movie “Jaws” would implant irrational, yet permanent fear in the American psyche. As a Navy family, we’ve frolicked in the waves near many coastal duty stations all summer long in Virginia, California, Florida and Rhode Island. But we never let on that, under our nautical-inspired beachwear and sun-tanned faces, we were terrified of sharks lurking under the waves, sniffing the sea for flesh and blood.

This constant, semi-subconscious anxiety wasn’t enough to keep us off the beach, but it was enough to make us freak out — “Kids! Out of the water!” while flailing our arms wildly — when we felt something (always turned out to be a jellyfish) or saw a fin (always turned out to be a dolphin). Although unprovoked shark attacks are extremely rare (only 16 per year in the US, almost none fatal), Americans can’t escape sources of information and entertainment that keep our fear alive and well: The inevitable news reports highlighting shark bites in excruciating detail; web-based shark trackers that follow tagged beasts like cuddly 12-foot Great White “Ironbound”; Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” which begins July 11; a new movie titled “Great White” coming to the U.S. July 16; and endless “Jaws” summer replays, of course.

How is a beach-loving Navy spouse to cope with all this shark-fear mongering? Move to a landlocked base and stare at grain silos? No way. I’ll stay at the beach and swallow my anxiety, along with an ice-cold mojito.

Read more at, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email:

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