From The Highest Dune

000728 steve hartman head shot
Instead of finding stories as most reporters do, CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman uses a highly sophisticated piece of newsgathering equipment: a dart. He asks a person on the street to throw a dart at a map to help him choose where he'll go next in search of a story. Once there, he picks a subject at random from the phone book. The premise is that "Everybody Has a Story." In Whiteville, N.C., he met a couple who has found that the ocean brings joy despite its hazards.

When Ann Coburn, a 67-year-old housewife, answered the phone, Hartman didn't worry about where it would lead. He just found the beginning, and let her bittersweet story unravel from there.

Her husband Dick recalls, "I asked her to marry me. I gave the ring to her. She started crying. I thought I had made a big mistake. I said, 'How can I get my money back?"

They met when she was 5. Ann lived at 305 North Madison. Dick lived at 203 South Madison. They still live on the same street. But Ann's favorite place isn't on this shady avenue. Quite the contrary.

"I really enjoy the beach. It's just an old friend," she says, even though this so-called friend has been remarkably nasty to them. In '54, Hurricane Hazel destroyed their house. So they bought another, at a place called Bald Head Island. As Ann describes it, "It was the prettiest piece of property on this beach."

Another storm came, and it's still a beautiful place to live, if you're a tuna. Pointing out to sea, Dick says, "See, that pelican is sitting almost on my lot."

You would think that would discourage even the most devoted beach lovers. "You might as well laugh as cry," says Ann.

The Coburns bought again. And for Ann, "It doesn't get any better than this."

Actually, Dick could take it or leave it. It's Ann who is drawn here. She explains, "When my mother died, that was the first thing I wanted to do, was go to the beach and just walk by myself. It helped."

When she's here, Ann will spend hours walking through the sand. She looks for shells, feathers, and hermit crabs at the water's edge and looks off the highest dune, thinking out loud, "A painter can't paint that. You feel like you can see forever."

Because Ann knows how quickly Mother Nature can take it all away. This time, I'm not talking about her beach house. Six years ago, Ann was diagnosed with a progressive eye disease.

She says, "I can see your face and hair and your hand on your chin, but as far as really seeing your features, I can't see that."

So what is the end result? "Blindness."

When Ann heard the prognosisshe made a conscious effort to notice even more, to walk even slower. So if and when that disease ever steals her precious sight, her favorite views will be clearly etched. Says Ann, "When the waves arch, that little fine white spray starts down, I'll know it."

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