Copyright 2009 by Dody Johnson
My first love affair is the one I’m still in, it’s with the ocean. I love the ocean. She speaks to me and I speak back. I love how she looks and I love all of her emotions. She understands my deepest feelings. Sometimes she’s wild with loud, crashing waves towering over me, and sometimes she’s mild and gentle, tickling my toes. I sink into the wet sand and she massages my feet as she swirls around me.
Sometimes she appears to be holding all the world’s tears. She feels so much pain that she has to scream her anger thrashing to shore. There are times I need to sit close and cry with her.
There are times when the ocean is my best playful friend. I run out to her and she catches me and takes me up high and I ride with her as she quickly lowers me to the sand. Then there are times I love to stand in the water knee deep and watch her build, settle, and then build some more. Like she’s teasing me and then all of a sudden she’s ready to let go and I try so very hard not to let her knock me down as she smashes hard against my body. Sometimes I collapse and she wins. Sometimes I’m an unmovable pillar of steel and I win. Sometimes I let her chase me as I run away from her. And, sometimes she catches me.
This love affair with the ocean started when I was a child. My Father introduced me to her. Once a year in August, early in the morning, and still dark outside, he would go around the house waking up my siblings and me. We made up five in all. The oldest is Kathy. She was the serious one, well beyond her years. She acted like a little, bossy mother, but you knew she loved you. Next, came Artie, He was the clown in the family. He turned everything into fun. When I think of Artie, I see his wide smile. Next, I arrived, the second daughter, middle child, best of both worlds. I was loved and cared for by my two older siblings and loved and revered by my two younger ones. I couldn’t loose. At last, came Bill and Bob. We always lump them together because you rarely saw a Bill without a Bob.
We were trying to wake up at that ungodly hour, bumping into each other as we rushed to the bathroom to be first in line. We started dressing, putting our clothes on over our bathing suits. Next, we helped by taking loads of stuff to the car. I was still tired as we drove away from our house in the dark. Our neighborhood looked different without movement in it. It felt strange to be the only family awake and the only car on the road while everyone else was still sleeping. I use to pretend we were escaping out of the city to freedom. I loved looking out the car window at the quiet scenery. I knew I was seeing things my friends had never seen. You have to get up very early to see a city still sleeping.
We arrived at Jones Beach in the dark, and started the many trips from the car to our spot near the ocean. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and eventually I could see where sky touched water. Being as close as we were to New York City, our sky was always black. The first time I ever saw stars was during the big blackout in November of 1965. I stayed up all night in our front yard looking at all the bright little lights above me. It was the most spectacular sight I ever witnessed. I had no idea that some people saw this all the time.
My Father started setting up the grill as we arranged all the coolers near by. Besides providing food, shelter, and clothing for the family, his big contribution was creating childhood memories. My Father was a romantic, and an artist. He earned his money in the corporate world, climbing that ladder of success, and I believe he did well in the business world because he applied that same imagination and motivation he shared with us, with his peers. As he put the bacon and sausage on, my siblings and I spread out all the blankets on the sand. We would arrange our toys in the designated toy area. We had beach balls to play with, shovels and pails to build sandcastles, flipper fins so we could swim like the sharks and inner tubes so my little brothers wouldn’t drown. Artie always brought his box of army men, and Kathy, was never without her transistor radio. I can still remember when “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” came on. Some day I was going to have a yellow polka dot bikini.
My Dad always timed the breakfast just right. When he finished cooking, I understood why he was on such a regimented time schedule. He wanted us all to have our plates in front of us just as the ‘Sun’ started to peek above the horizon. For me, this was my first experience with Dinner Theatre, only it was Breakfast Theatre. We would all sit there and eat our breakfast in awe, watching the ‘Sun’ perform in front of us. The colors were breath taking as this round ball rose. The ocean, sand, and sky were her stage, and when she made her full appearance, my family and I screamed excitedly and applauded as loud as we could. It would be another year before we saw this play again. It always amazed me that we were the only ones on the beach. I found it hard to understand why no one else wanted to see the show.
By the time we finished eating and cleaning up the pots and pans, it was time to take off the sweatshirts. Slowly, families started arriving, and then they came at a steady pace until all of a sudden the beach was full of people and noise. There was laughter, yelling and little girls’ high-pitched screams as the cold water hit against their bodies for the first time.
Next, the dreaded scream, I hated this scream, and we could count on hearing it every time we went to the beach. It was the scream that came after the jelly fish stung my Mother. I am proud to say nothing in the ocean has ever stung or bitten me. I guess because we are so close, and she knows how to protect me. My Mother on the other hand has a different relationship with the ocean. She can not stand at waters edge without something grabbing onto her. Maybe her fear of water and not being able to swim attracts them? Well, anyway I always felt sad for her because she had to leave her nice time and have it replaced with screaming, crying and pain. After the jelly fish was removed from her foot, she retreated to her blanket and there she stayed until we were ready to load the car to go home. She had a very long time to wait because we still had lunch and diner to eat.
Every time we did something as a family, it was typical for my Mother to end up angry and by herself. My Father, who did not want to get into a drag out fight in public, decides to ignore her. Because she is being ignored, her rage would build until she left us. Her body was still on the blanket, but there was no one home when you looked into her eyes. I never knew where my Mother went, and I had mixed feeling about her leaving us. I felt sad that she had to leave earth, and I was glad that she wasn’t screaming at the top of her lungs. It was embarrassing and scary when her rage was allowed out. We knew when we went on family outings, something was going to happen to her. We just didn’t know what or how. So, we spent our day playing and exploring at the beach and trying very hard not to let our Mother’s dampened spirits ruin our fun.
At dusk, Dad prepared the grill for cooking again. He always fixed steaks, corn on the cob and potato salad for dinner. We ate as the sun disappeared, and the moon shone the one and only light in the sky. After diner, we all went for a long walk. Except Mom, she still couldn’t leave her blanket. The grill needed time to cool down before loading it back into the car, so a walk was a good idea. We laughed and talked about our day. We told about the people we met and the fun we had. We always named our best part and our worst part of the day. We all knew what Mom’s worst part of the day was, and then we would start talking about the jellyfish, and making jokes about why the jellyfish like Mom the best.
Cleaning up after 18 hours at the beach was a project and a half. There was so much to throw out and organize and carry to the car. Dad orchestrated the tearing down of our compound just as he did the building of it. We acquired new piles. The garbage pile was next to the rock pile, which we collected on the beach for my Dad’s rock gardens at home. We had the shell pile next to the wet towel pile. “Kathy and Dody, shake out all the blankets. Artie, start taking this stuff to the car, I’ll load it when I get there. Dody, watch your little brothers,” my Dad directed.
It was like magic when we took that last load to the car. I looked everywhere across the beach and not a soul was to be found. It was dark and empty just like when we arrived.
I took one last look at my best friend. She was calm now. Small white tipped waves gently rolling to shore as she also came in for the night. I thanked her for helping me through that day of fun and devastation. I felt drawn to her and sad to leave. Who will help me when my Mother disappears tomorrow?
Whenever I feel too much of the world’s
craziness, I go and visit my lover. She still encourages me to go on.
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