IMG_0445It is that time of year; the time of year when, young or old, rich or poor, urban or country dweller, our hearts turn towards bodies of water. They may be the chilly waters of Lake Michigan, or they may be the enclosed, buggy ponds of New England. In many cases, on the East Coast, getaway plans often include the gorgeous, multifaceted coastline of the Atlantic Ocean.

I am made up of this briny, salty water. It courses through my veins as blood courses through the veins of others. It is where I spent my childhood. It is where I learned to swim and where I spent countless hours diving, body surfing and rafting. It is where I was stung by a Man-O-War, caught countless crabs for dinner and fished for dark, oily fish that I would eat for dinner. I would turn very brown, never used sunscreen, wore the same three swimsuits in succession and clambered off to the same small movie theater on rainy days. I would eat an ice cream or two from Springers, or decide that I was more in the mood for soft-serve ice cream with the frozen chocolate shell surrounding the luscious custard cream. Many early evenings, I would forage the cheap, Five and Dime stores, looking for shell bracelets or other similar treasures. My bicycle was my ticket to freedom, and I would careen around my neighborhood, or into town, one hand on a handlebar, the other hand feeling the wind blow through my fingers, or ringing the bell attached to my bike, warning those in front of me to move aside. If I had enough cash, I would buy a Fifth Avenue chocolate bar as a treat, somehow never gaining an ounce from my endless sweet tooth.

I would spend my formative summers right ON the beach. An unheard of extravagance now, it was a treat then, to be sure, but not out of the question. As a typical child, I took much of it for granted, until years later. Of course everyone goes to the beach, I would think. This is just what you do in the summer. My parents carted my brother and me to our beach house directly following the end of the school year. Shucking our tunics, jerseys and khakis, we threw on shorts and polo shirts and scrambled in the back of our family station wagon; a large, clunky car with plenty of room on the back for two kids to roll around with comic books, crayons and coloring books and mad libs in hand. Seat belts? Huh?? Car seats? Wha? This was fun. This was staring out of the back window at the drivers of the cars behind us, making silly faces, tickling each other in the ribs, or reading Archie and Veronica to one another. Our excitement would build as we crossed the first of many bridges that would lead us to the Jersey Shore; as will say in Philadelphia, “down the shore.”

Our house was a glass-fronted, modern affair. All of our rooms faced the ocean, paying homage to the vast sea beyond. I would wake up in the early morning to the sound of the surf pounding in my ears, yards from my bedroom. Waxing and waning, it called me like a siren as I scurried out of bed, eager to get outside. Having to wait until 9am before feeling the sand between my toes was torture. My torture included delicious, cream-filled donuts with which I would stuff my face each morning and the brand new, just invented, Lego set with which I would build wonderful model homes. Still, the sea called me, as it called Aeneas into its cold embrace. Come to me, it would seem to say. Hear my roar, feel the coolness of my water, feel the warmth of the sun on our back. Smell the salt air. There has been nothing quite like it, in my life.

Am I at the shore now? Do you assume that my passion for the sea continued throughout my life? Right on the second count. Wrong on the first. I made a fatal mistake; I fell in love with a wonderful, bear of a man. His family hails from the Midwest. He despises eating fish. Body surfing does not come easily to him. His swimming prowess is, well, so-so. Don’t get me wrong. There are many things he does well. He played football in college like a pro. He is a pretty good cook. He thinks with numbers instead of words; a skill I find impressive and intoxicating as it is something I cannot do. He loves children, animals and family. He loves golf. I mean–he LOVES golf. His love for golf is a crazy love, spawned from childhood. His family would drop him off at the course in the morning and pick him up at the end of the day. The schedule has not changed; or should I say, he drops his family off at home in the morning and picks them up at night. Just as the ocean was the backdrop to my life growing up, so the lush greens and brutal bunkers of the golf course were his. “So what?” you say. “Your marriage is fifty-fifty,” you say. “You should be at the sea while your love is on the course.” Yes-I might answer. But the course is near the city, and it is one of the best in the world. One cannot find a course even close to its excellence, down the shore. And the shore–it takes an hour or so to drive there, and the costs of home ownership and rentals have gone through the roof. These costs extend everywhere: not just here, but up and down the coast, from Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, all the way up to the rocky shoals of Maine. One family, right now–at least, this family–cannot have both golf and salt water. If I am lucky, I might carve a week here or there out of my summer to obtain my fix. My lucky husband, on the other hand, keeps his clubs in the car and hightails it to the course every weekend. My backdrop is not as portable as his and yet its scarcity gives it a more magical quality.

How strong, you ask, is love? I guess it must be strong. Because I sit here, alone, on a sunny hot day, dreaming of my beach. I picture a bike with fat tires and a basket on the front. I picture myself in a frumpy black bathing suit, cover up and straw hat. I see myself pedaling to the waterfront, flip-flops on my feet, towel in hand, umbrella collapsed in my other arm. I have the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in my beach bag, along with a beach read, my phone and my needlepoint. I have already slathered myself with70 SPF sunscreen. I am in heaven as I pick my way among throngs of beach goers, finding a spot on the sand to call my own. Dream. I close my eyes and dream of such wonders. Dream a little dream….

We all have our dreams, our fixes; memories that will last well past our ability to enjoy them in reality. Will my dream comfort me in my old age, as I sit in a nursing home, remembering my youth? Probably. I am damned lucky to have these visions, these memories. I have my youth and my parents to thank for them. In the meantime, I try each year to love golf in the same way that my husband loves the game. If you cannot beat them, join them? Maybe? I try. Maybe one day I will be on par with my husband. Maybe? I try. I hold out though. I hold out for my ship to come in, for the hidden treasure to be discovered, for the winning lottery ticket. One never knows. One can always dream. I hear the surf pounding in my ears seventy-four miles away. I don’t have to be next to it, to know that it is there.


“Hello honey,” she said, just as I would have said to my son.“Where are you right now?” she continued, with a sense of urgency. This piqued my interest. It was an unusual question to provoke such angst. I leaned forward in my blue printed chair and looked through the contents of the bag at my feet, ostensibly looking for a book, a pen, maybe my iPad, or a magazine.

“Uh, huh, ok,” she said quickly. “If you are there and you plan to stay, here is what I want you to do. No hanging around Melvin. He is no good. And no staying past 8 o’clock. No good will come of that either. Don’t’ want you getting into trouble. You hear?”
The train slowed as it crossed over the bridge in Trenton, and then gathered momentum, swaying side to side. The car smelled of disinfectant and sweat. My chair sagged from much use. I shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“And what are you wearing?” she continued, speaking softly, but intently. “Yeah, you know I don’t like you wearing that. It worries me. I have told you before.”
There was a pause. What was he wearing? I flipped open my magazine and studied the perfume ad. It showed two extravagantly dressed, beautiful young models, riding a horse bareback across an open field. Her arms wound tightly around his waist, and she rested her head on his strong shoulder. They wore Wellington boots, providing a stark contrast to the tuxedo, the evening dress.
“Take the hoodie off. Take it off right now. You want to make sure that everyone can see your face. Did you shave today? What you doing with your hoodie on and what you doing with Melvin?” She was whispering loudly now. I could hear her clearly if I leaned my head to the left of my seat and rested it against the glass window. The wheels of the Amtrak car screeched, drumming against the track that bore it to New York City.
“Yeah, and then what will you do? Call me when you get home, please. Right away. I will be back later tonight. I want to see you in the house when I get home. In the house. When I get home.”
She sounded agitated; a mother, worried about her child. The hoodie–it reminded me of another story: a boy, with skittles–a neighborhood vigilante, racial profiling, and then a shooting. The boy had been only seventeen. One year younger than my son. I sat up straight, closing my magazine.
“And will you stay there, for now? Or will you be somewhere else before you come home? Oh yeah? No, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so. don’t go there, Earl. Please. At least you are safe in Center City, until it gets darker. Was that Melvin’s idea? I don’t like him.”
My felt felt warm and a dizziness washed over me. My boy was probably sitting in a large classroom right now, or sleeping in the secure dorm room of the University. The campus was protected by an interior quadrangle, security staff, emergency phone boxes on every corner and required card identification slots for all entrances and exits. He was privileged, and white. He would be relatively clean. We had purchased a few new articles of clothing from a shop before he headed up to school earlier that fall. They would probably be wrinkled now–maybe dirty. We would meet at a vegan restaurant on 117th and Broadway. The dizziness passed. I pressed my lips together and closed my eyes.
“So, Earl,” the woman continued, softly. “You know that I would be there, if I could. Have you heard from your father? No? I see. You take good care of yourself. You know that I love you. I want to see you when I get home. Goodbye, Earl.”
Focusing on my glossy magazine, I skimmed over a story about making your life the best that it can be. I heard the woman on the phone stuff her phone in a bag and inhale. A newspaper snapped open, and she exhaled.


Feet pounding the tarmac, I ran quickly in those days. P.F. Flyers tied loosely on my feet and wearing old cut-off jeans and a cotton tee shirt, I flew down a road that intersected College Avenue. I looped around a leafy neighborhood rife with flowering dogwoods and azaleas. I felt powerful, immortal, invincible. I caught on to the high of running early on, and often saw the gaping jaws of neighbors driving by, shaking their heads, certain I was crazy. Endorphins became a needed part of my day, and barring blizzards or torrential rains, I would lace up, and go “jogging.”
It was 1975, and Frank Shorter transformed the landscape of fitness in America. I was inspired by his words, and his dedication to this new sport, this concept of being “healthy.” I would learn to eat larger salads, using greens other than iceberg lettuce. I would shun meats, and discover legumes, beans and yummy goat cheeses that were still outlawed in the United States. I would cut down on alcohol, and switched from drinking a nightly scotch, to imbibing a glass of red wine only on weekends, or with friends. It took some time for the wine fad to catch on in the ’70’s. How I remember the boxed Almaden wine that my parent’s bought. It was a big deal to brag that one was now drinking “wine,” with dinner, and Almaden, at that! How awful that stuff was. It took some time for my taste buds to discern a good bottle of red or white from swill, but it happened. Cheese was also a big discovery. I was shocked to learn that there were varieties other than American and Cheddar cheeses! In fact, I became so enamored of cheese, that I eschewed the dinners served at my college dorm, and purchased slices of exotic cheeses, to enjoy with crackers and condiments, for dinner.
My love of running continued through stints in Corporate Banking in New York City and a graduate program at Columbia University. I ran around the reservoir, and probably passed Jackie Kennedy, but did not realize it. Some days, I biked five miles around the park instead, letting the wind rush past me, feeling the power of pedaling around my favorite city, watching the distinct skyline of Central Park West as I flew.
As many do, I eventually left city life behind for suburbia, when my first child was born. I continued to jog and bike ride in those days. I was told by an OB/GYN that running could injure my uterus, and that the sport was not appropriate for women. Bystanders would gape as I ran in 10K races and hugged my daughter at the finish line. “You mean she is a mother?” they would exclaim. I loved exercise, and kept on pounding the pavement, and pushing myself. I swam, biked and ran, but the popularity of Triathlons was still a number of years away. In the meantime, I caught onto the Jane Fonda craze and was spurred on by a movie called “FLASHDANCE.” Thong leotards fit tightly over colored tights and leg warmers completed the ensemble. It was well into the 1980’s, and suddenly, the “feel the burn” movement had taken over, as I pounded on cement floors, wearing hightop Reebok sneakers.
A thought may have crossed your mind at this point of my first blog. And guess what? You are on the right track. All of this was wreaking havoc on my joints, even as I was staying aerobically fit. Cartilage was silently disappearing from my knees, my spine and my hips. My future was being mapped out, unbeknownst to me. It all collapsed on a fateful winter vacation, as I slipped down a small slope in Park City, determined to learn a sport I had never tried, while growing up. I heard a “pop,” could not get myself up, and was whirled down the slopes by a snowmobile, my` daughter, resolutely by my side. The doctor laid it all out for me: I had a severe ACL tear in my knee, but my knee had already been badly damaged through years of abuse.
“Abuse.” I thought. This was new. This was not good. What the hell had I done? I had gone down the garden path, with no sense of what damage I was doing to myself. Doctor’s and health experts seem to know what is best at the time, bemoaning the errors of our past and extolling the latest in lifestyle.
Now, I swim laps with older women in lanes next to me, “walking” in the water with weights on their legs. Am I an older woman? I guess so. When did this happen? Is this what I should be doing? Should I chuck my Speedo, high legged suit for a “moderate cut” model, and find a bathing cap with a chip strap? Not yet. I am swimming lap after lap, with my Garmin watch that keeps track of my stroke length and lap numbers. The less strokes per lap, the better. I am trying not to gulp in the chlorinated water, convinced that someday, the doctors will wag their fingers at me for ingesting poisons. Now, I am wary. Now, I know that danger lurks in every move I make. And yet, I visit my physicians, who urge me to continue to exercise, to watch my weight. The pain of my earlier forays into exercise follows me now. My knee hurts, my back aches, and the laps seem endless and boring. I watch runners with envy, but wonder if I should chase them, yelling at them, warning them of their inevitable demise. I want to tell them “I was once like you. I might look old, but in my heart, I am just like you still. Do not judge me for my moderate cut swimwear. Do not judge me for my high waisted jeans and bathing cap!” But judged I am, I am sure. But wait, my old attitude is still there! One that does not care what others think. Whether running, when others are driving, or swimming ponderously, lap after lap, I am trying, like an old soldier, to keep up. A cool footnote: Amazon sells waterproofed Apple shuffles with earplugs made for swimming underwater! It is a marvelous feeling to glide in the water, listening music I love. Note to self–please delete the Christmas music until next December!