This year, like many others, I am awaiting Memorial Day and the official start of Summer with the unvarnished enthusiasm of a child–new beach towels, chairs dusted off in the garage, all for the Saturday that would be the portal for 16 weeks or so at the beach.

When the kids were small, this weekend would be met with excitement and chaos. A wardrobe of bathing suits would have been purchased before the day–and worn, come hell or high water on that Saturday. Whether they were in the Ocean or our beach’s pool, they would persevere despite our strongest admonitions and would emerge blue, shivering, small bodies and chattering teeth excitedly explaining who they saw and what they did.

I remember pulling sweatshirts over the heads of kids who would continue to talk through my fussing so that when the head popped through, not a word was missed or a beat skipped.

Each year, I would buy four new beach towels, knowing full well, that only one would survive the summer. The rest would be evenly divided between someone’s stash in their locker, the damp hollows of the lost and found, and lastly, the watery grave of the ocean. The latter would come after an evening of fireworks or other after dark activities where the towels would line “bunkers”, “rooms” or “caves’ ‘ depending on the game.

Oh and don’t believe for a moment that a monogram kept the towels safe–when apprehended with a towel that was monogrammed with a child’s name, the offender would actually assert that it was indeed his, a cause for righteous indignation for my children. 

My 4×4 locker always starts the same way–tidy and organized with some new bin that I proclaim will be the answer to our perpetual beach mess. But within a few weeks, there are surfboards, wetsuits, empty cans and candy wrappers, wet bathing suits on the floor, marking a complete surrender. It has been that way for the last 22 years, I can’t see it changing this year, but I will try. 

The Weekend for Remembering

After two days of freezing and reconnecting with friends, Monday would dawn and there were uniforms to be donned and marching to be done. Our children, and most of the others, were told to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and remain solemn during the laying of the memorial wreaths. This parade and the following ceremony always provided the necessary context to the weekend. From Cub Scout uniforms, to Little League and later to some high school clubs, we were there, waving from the sidewalk. A little slice of Americana. 

I love that for the week prior, the school assignments would revolve around honoring men and women who served. The children learned about the local veterans and in turn, were able to appreciate their sacrifices more fully. 

Memorial Day in my childhood involved dressing in red, white and blue and standing on a cold dock shivering as we watched  the wreaths get laid in the water–taps playing in the background. 

Much as with my own children, once the solemnity was over, we were able to hang out with our friends, many of whom we saw only over the Summer. Our parents would be standing in white pants and blazers sipping cocktails and divulging a winter’s worth of gossip.  

Simple Days

Those days were simple days and how lucky we were to be able to sit in a circle with our friends–by agreement  the toddlers played in the center and the older kids were outside. Our beach was homey and friendly with a lost child galvanizing an entire population, or a naughty child receiving the censure of someone other than his parents.

These were days of friendship and communal parenting–it takes a village, according to Hillary, but here on the Northern Jersey Shore, it takes a beach. 

From our little vantage point, we saw the World Trade Towers smolder for weeks on end. We shared the grief of lost parents. Later we would share the grief of chldren we knew since toddlerhood lost to opioids, or suicide or wallowing in the aftermath of youthful indiscretions. We have gone to the weddings of these beach kids and hope to go to more. From our circle’s vantage point, we have waited at the start of every summer, to see which of the old-timers didn’t make it through the winter. We have seen the teens that babysat for our kids, or were lifeguards when our children were small, grow into young mothers chasing their own kids down the boardwalk with a towel and a tube of sunscreen in hand. 

The Summer after my husband died, I had my usual excitement about the start of Summer, but it had an echo of fear. Would the beach still hold all of the good for me once I was by myself? Or would the memories of such happy times here choke me and change forever my love affair with the beach? 

Like all the other tragedies we had seen, the beach goes on, and we with it. I can laugh now at how my husband, a dyed-in-the-wool Brooklyn guy, took about two summers before he would remove his shoes BEFORE he got to his chair. As an extremely fair-skinned individual, the unrelenting sun at mid-day was a torture for him, so he would do “practice dutty” and arrive later in the afternoon having dropped off and picked up one of our kids from football or baseball. He hated the beach, but he loved us, and later loved the beach for what it meant to us, and that made it all ok. 

Summer 2021

This year, the anticipation was heightened by the sheer joy of freedom–freedom from fear of illness, freedom for those older folks who could finally reunite with their large families on the beach.

I was excited to see my friend’s new baby–born at the height of winter. I was excited to see those friends that I really only get to see for these 16 weeks. 

That is why the disappointment of the lousy forecast was so poignant. We’ve been waiting–but just like we have always done, we will cut our losses, thank God for our graces, put our chairs in the sand, faces toward the sun, and just be.

As I write this, the sun has popped out–it is still 55 degrees, but I’m thinking with a sweater and jeans, everything will be ok.

Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.

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