Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There are places I remember (Part I)

You know how in guided meditation the instructor often encourages you to envision a place where you can relax?  Does everyone have at least one of those places?

I do.

It's more complicated than relaxation, but my place is significant; it has contributed to my sense of who and where I am in the world. I think of it often and fondly.

When I was about three years old, my family started spending summer vacations at the now infamous Jersey Shore. Every year from then until I graduated from college, we rented a cottage in the tiny town of Harvey Cedars, on Long Beach Island, which is 18-miles long and a few long blocks wide. LBI has been described as "Six Miles At Sea", but that's really stretching the point. It's a barrier island just north of Atlantic City and east of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which are 1.1 million acres of preserved land in a State more commonly (and incorrectly) known for industry, pollution and urban decay. Surprised? Most are.

Long Beach Island is an anachronism, a throw-back to the 1950s where summers are filled with sunshine and boogie boards (unless a wet and windy nor'easter settles in for the long haul) and smell like tropical sunscreen, and chain restaurants are outlawed. One of the best parts about LBI in the summer is that people go there to play. Parents, children, grandparents, lovers - put any on them on a beach with a bucket and a shovel, or maybe a kite or a Frisbee, and watch what happens. Pure unadulterated joy.

I live in Florida now, and let me tell you, the Gulf can't compete with crashing Atlantic waves, breezes redolent with salt and seaweed, and water so cold it can make your ankles ache. Mostly it's about the waves: in my mind a beach doesn't really count if the waves dribble in like afterthoughts.

LBI inextricably links me with memories of family and friends and life's little turning points.

My father was an avid fisherman. He'd be up at dawn to go surf casting, and often came home with a bucket of dinner. I can hardly pass a sand-spiked fishing pole without thinking of him.

He got us all to enjoy fishing with him, and every summer we looked forward to renting a shallow water, flat bottomed boat called a Barnegat Bay garvey, for the day. We were fishing for fluke, but often hauled up nasty squawking sea robins or (eek!) sting rays.  It was always an adventure, punctuated by faulty engines, sudden rainstorms and yacht-sized wakes which would invariably make my mother shout at us all to "sit down and hang on tight!"  Great fun.

In the early spring, when I was 15 or 16, my sister, Linda, and I combined our babysitting earnings and drove from our home in central Jersey to Ron Jon's Surf Shop (the original, I might add. Not some Florida wannabe) to buy a surfboard. Here's Ron Jon's back then:
Over the next few years the surfboard, a Duke Kohanamoku affectionately referred to by all as The Duke, provided hours of excitement and fun (and not incidentally, a great way to meet boys). It was very long and heavy by today's standards, blue with a single skeg and no sissy ankle strap.

On that day, though, we were very board-proud, driving north on the Garden State Parkway with The Duke strapped to the roof of the car. Cool doesn't begin to describe how we felt.

Fortunately, I don't have to dig too far back in my memory to conjure up The Duke. He has taken up permanent residence in the crawl space under my mother's house on LBI, and gets hauled out about once a year for grandchildren to paddle around on. He's covered with sand-gritted caked-on wax that's probably 40 years old.

Speaking of 40, when I turned that age and The Duke was around 25, we were vacationing on LBI. The kids were young - 5 and 7 - and I told Bill the only thing I wanted for my birthday was to ride a wave with The Duke. Bill, God bless him, carried that hunk of a board the 2 excruciatingly long blocks to the ocean and - I paddled out. The waves sucked, and so did I, but it was worth every moment. (although Bill may have another opinion).

Life's a Beach, and tomorrow I'm flying to LBI for a twixt-holiday visit with my mother and brother. Stay tuned for Part II.


  1. Have a nice trip Pat. Kiss your mom for me, she raised a great bunch of kids. I miss you.

  2. Thanks Julie. Miss you too, bunches.