It 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.