by Barb, at the Jersey shore
What is it about the connection between human beings and bodies of water? Why do so many of us find a quality of peace and relaxation when staring at the ocean, or a favorite lake, that we find nowhere else? What is it about a rushing trout stream on a spring day that carries our troubles away with it? Is it because we’ve depended on the water for millennia for food, transport, cooling on hot days? Is it because our bodies are 60% water and we need it to live? Is it because we came from the oceans originally and that memory is somewhere buried deep in our primitive brains?
Our personal histories play into it, too. When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents had places near the ocean, my mother’s parents in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and my father’s parents in Water Mill, Long Island.
My grandmother Ross would pick my brother and me up on the last day of school every year, and drive us out to the end of Long Island. We knew all the landmarks along the way, the strawberry fields, the windmills, the building shaped like a giant duck that was a market that sold, well, duck, what else? My grandmother’s father would visit her for the same two weeks, so I grew up knowing my great-grandfather well. His hobby was painting tiles and he would let my brother and I paint them, too and then we would take them to be fired. My grandparents belonged to a beach club on Flying Point Road and a part of every day was spent there. Then we’d stop at a friend’s pool on the way home, diving for pennies my grandmother threw in the deep end. Whatever we retrieved we kept to spend at the Penny Candy Store on the way home. I can still taste the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Later in the summer, my mother would deliver us for two weeks with her parents in Sea Girt. The Jersey shore was a different sort of place, more organized and built up in those days, with a boardwalk. In the mornings my grandmother did household chores while my brother and I agitated for the beach. If the day was overcast she would say, “Go out on the lawn and look up. If you see enough blue to make a Dutchman’s pants, we’ll go.” I’ve never heard the expression since, and I wonder if it is a New Jersey thing, vaguely insulting to the original settlers? My grandmother shared a rental umbrella and two lounge chairs with her friend, Rose Bigley, which would be set up by lifeguards with white zinc oxide on their noses while we waited. Rose and my grandmother would sit in the chairs and talk of grown-up things while my brother and I played in the sand and the ocean.
My parents started the tradition of renting a house for a week in Stone Harbor. It was their way of corralling a family that was spread out, of making sure the cousins grew up together. We evolved our traditions, of mini-golf and cut-throat Scrabble games, and, of course, daily trips to the beach, often two a day. For years a trip to Cape May kicked off my annual Christmas shopping. We did it for a decade and then the kids grew up, had summer jobs and the tradition ended.
When my mother died, my sister-in-law had only one request. “I want to go back to the beach.” And so we have, indoctrinating new in-laws and a new generation of grandchildren along the way.
From this experience, maybe, decades from now, when my granddaughter looks at the ocean, she’ll feel at peace. Or maybe that’s already inside her.
Readers: Do you have a location by a body of water that’s special to you?