This lovely reminiscence by MB Sanok takes us back to her childhood at the beach – a place most everyone loves. Read more from MB on her blog, Maple Brown Sugar
Recently, two friends and I were discussing how much we missed having easy access to a beach house (I know – poor us). Relying on relatives for beach-related fun, all it took was a quick call, the packing of bags and a short ride to the Jersey Shore. My Great Uncle A owned a large beach house in Point Pleasant Beach, only three blocks from the beach and surrounded by small lakes girded with lily pads and squawking ducks.
My mom, who was raised by her maternal grandparents and a mix of relatives including Uncle A was in her late teens, starting her career, when he bought the house. Many summers were then spent at the shore. In fact, my parents met at a bar at the shore. She recalls that I kicked her belly for the first time while she laid in bed at the shore on a warm July night in 1971. Six months later, I arrived between snowstorms in late January.
Summers to me meant the Jersey Shore where we’d frequently travel to Point Pleasant Beach and stay in my uncle’s home. Usually, I stayed in the light pink room, flooded with light. It was my Aunt F’s who worked at the famous, seemingly glamorous New York Macy’s, and painted her nails rose pink.
My schedule (if it could be called one) consisted of playing in the sand and bodysurfing fearlessly until my fingers pruned in the exhilarating waves. We ate dinner at a local, popular bayside restaurant where I developed a taste for seafood. The evening ended at the boardwalk where I’d beg to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl, sometimes numerous times, and bought plastic bags of pink cotton candy to stickily eat later. Other nights, we’d play endless rounds of Uno and Bingo. We bet pennies in Bingo and laughed uproariously when Aunt T couldn’t distinguish between the blue and green Uno cards. Those nights concluded by sitting on the porch in rocking chairs and hearing stories from their long ago childhoods.
Since it was not our shore house, I never felt comfortable inviting friends to visit. Although we were the closest relatives they had, some unmarried and without children, we remained visitors despite the ability to come down the shore whenever we chose. My mom would call Uncle A, he’d stock the shelves and prepare our rooms. When my dad was still alive, sometimes no vacancies were available. Different relatives occupied the rooms for their own beach forays. We’d stay at a nearby hotel, which was never a strain or inconvenience. Both places offered oceanfront rooms with beach access. One hotel provided a gorgeous, in-ground pool to accommodate our swimming needs where I used a Flintstones floatie with the strong smell of plastic.
We also didn’t invite anyone because the relatives who frequented Uncle A’s home were elderly with occasionally cantankerous moods, multiple pill bottles lined up on the dining room hutch and debilitating problems like severe arthritis or oncoming Alzheimer’s which freaked us out as kids but we accepted as old age.
Nevertheless, our summers staying at the shore influenced my growing love for it. Although I never passed the Beginner 2 class at our local pool, I never feared the outrageous waves. When I was old enough, my mom, who loves the ocean as much as I do, encouraged me to ride the waves with her. My sister L refused to because of the weird, mysterious texture of the ocean floor and her fear of sharks, thanks to an early viewing of Jaws. My mom taught me when to jump up and turn in order to not get blasted by a wicked wave, and how relaxing and soothing the sea water could be.
After a long day riding the waves, I remember my mom asking me when she tucked me, “Do you still feel like you’re in the ocean?”
I sleepily replied, “Yes”. She smiled, kissed me goodnight, and I fell asleep, lulled by the lingering waves.
However, as a teenager, I tired of the visits because I ached for different summer experiences and to be around kids my own age.
“We HAVE to go to the shore AGAIN!” I inwardly whined and outwardly protested.
Despite my foolish complaints, we’d go, and I’d stay plugged in to my Walkman, reading books on the beach and wondering if we’d ever visit Europe. With my mom’s fear of flying, it wasn’t likely.
Now I regret those moments when I took our visits for granted. Once Uncle A’s siblings passed away or ended up confined to a nursing home with no hope of return, we continued to visit. Then Uncle A’s health declined considerably in his 80s, and those life changes altered his ability to maintain the house and act as a gracious, generous host.
A decision fell into my mom’s lap whether to keep the house or sell it. My mom is a survivor. She survived a somewhat lonely childhood with an unusual family dynamic. She suffered from and survived breast cancer twice. She endured the loss of her husband and our father. She raised two good yet moody daughters alone. Nervous enough about the operation of her own home, she felt it too much to worry about the shore house, too. With my uncle’s blessing, my mom decided to sell the home to the daughter of neighbors who always looked out for him.
I’m sad that Uncle A’s home is no longer in our family and no longer a place for us to build new summer beach house memories. But when the difficult decision was made, my husband B and I were not even together for a year, both living at home and learning how we fit into each other’s lives and what the future would bring. That spring, my sister graduated from college, just starting out in the New York City rat race. None of us could afford or manage a home of our own – it was beyond our current capabilities and would only add complications to the scary yet exciting new situations we found ourselves in.
Whenever I see pictures of families splashing in the surf or talking about driving down to their family’s beach house, a twinge of jealousy and familiarity rings out in my heart. I once had that – I once knew, treasured and then took for granted a beach house I still miss and still hope for. Maybe someday, I vow, a beach house will be part of my family once again. Until then, I’ll absorb the joy of the beach trips I do take and remember the beach house I once knew.