Posts Tagged ‘jones beach’

I have told you a little bit about Frances, my nana. When I was a girl I would spend weeks every summer with her. Instead of summer camp, my brother and I (and whichever cousins happened to be around) would spend every day at Jones Beach with her. She was an active woman up until her late 90’s. and would drag my brother and I with her on walks up and down the beach collecting shells, along the boardwalk to bring up the sun, to the West Bathouse where she’d swim endless laps. Everything was so far, and it took so long.

This is much of how I remembered it. Long. Far. Endless. The parking lot was vast–hotfooting it to the bathrooms was a major annoyance. The ocean was miles away from where we planted our beach chairs at the top of the beach. Walking the boardwalk from Field 6 (where Nana always parked) to Filed 2 (the end of the line) took hours and hours. 

I suppose I’ve been back to Jones Beach since I was a child. I’ve definitely been there for concerts (Rush, Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Tears for Fears, The Fray, Blues Traveler, the list goes on). But when I went to Jones Beach this Labor Day to lay on Field 6, it seemd like the first time I’d been back in 25 years.

The nostalgia was so powerful, I wept.

In this new life of mine, I cry more often than I would have ever thought I would allow myself, or find acceptable. I’m not even embarrassed about it, and it doesn’t always mean I’m sad.

I drove my Nana’s car. I took the Meadowbrook State Parkway. I drove thought those aqua toll booths that were made famous in The Godfather. I remembered nights spent dancing to New Wave with my high school friends at Malibu dance club (the exit sign to Lido Beach was what reminded me). My heart swelled with joy and homecoming as I sailed over the bridge. Then, the pencil! (If you don’ tknow what the pencil is then you definitely did not grow up on Long Island.) I remembered how Nana would keep me and my brother occupied in the predawn hours as we drove to the beach, looking in the grass next to the highway for Josephs (ducks) and Marias (rabbits). Oh, the rituals. The food, the friends, the walking, swimming, poppylols*, tanning, eating, more walking, then heading home before the rush. We never sat in beach traffic, I didn’t even know what that was until I was in high school and started going to Robert Moses with my friends.

Nana would back her car right up to the sand. She got there early enough to easily park in the first row. Field 6 is special in that you can literally use your trunk as your “office” if you put your chairs and umbrella down right there. So, I did the same thing on Labor Day (except I walked down the beach to lay closer to the water). Nana used to put her car keys on her car tire for safekeeping! For a girl who loved the beach, I hated sand on me. I was constantly at the faucet to rinse off my feet, and clean out the crotch of my one-piece after jumping around in the ocean.

My nana was an early-adopter of sunblock. She was slathering it on my and my brother before anyone was fretting about skin cancer. She was a wizard with a can of Solarcaine, too, because sometimes my brother and I got lazy (and burned).

So as I walked along the boardwalk–noticing how quickly I got from the car, to the bathrooms, to the boardwalk, to Field 4–I cried. I cried for who I had been as a girl, before I was pushed around by my classmates, by my 20’s, by my 30’s. I cried for Jones Beach, which had apparently spent the last quarter century shrinking. I cried for Nana, who was so vivacious, so active and fun to me. She had such a way with children. It may be her greatest gift, the way she can engage and love children. There was a time in my life during which she must have been my one true love: she held my attention and esteem, and all I could see was her burnish and her delightful unconventionality.

It was a little awkward, all the crying. I mean, the beach wasn’t crowded (it was windy and not so hot) but there were enough people there that my solitary walk with tears was a little, shall we say, out of season. More suited for January. Despite that, it felt good to emote for a while, in a place so comforting and familiar.

Lately, I’ve been carrying this kind of pre-grief around with me. I am sad for my friend Dan, who has greatly deteriorated from his Parkinsons Disease and is now in hospice (though not the palliative care ward yet, thank god). I’ve missed him for a while, as PD has taken him from us bit by bit. I visited him a month ago. While being near him was a relief and a joy, I was heartbroken to see how greatly he was diminished. And my Nana, who can still be sharp as a tack when she is interested, is not the same either. She’s in better shape than Dan, but it’s a wrench to see this once proud woman struggle with dentures, with drool, with all of the indignities that come with extraold age.

I walked along the boardwalk, I smelled the friend food from the concessions, I stood online at the bathrooms, I cooed over the trashcans stenciled with the classic crabs. Also, I felt superior. Superior to everyone else on that beach–that’s how sure I was that I was the only woman there with this unique, poignant, significant experience of Jones Beach.

That’s a crock. The supeior part, I mean. I have no doubt that my experience of Jones Beach is truly and solely mine.

When I was born, Nana drove to Jones Beach and praised God as she watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the very, very few things she and my dad have ever agreed upon: apparently, the sunrise that day was one of the most beautiful to have ever happened in the history of the world. How’s that for some love.

When Nana leaves me to carry on her life in some other dimension, I will have to come to Jones Beach to bid her proper goodbye. Even though she hasn’t been the queen of Field Six in decades, it’s her place. More precisely: it is our place.

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Lunch with Nana

Her house, Hicksville, Long Island.

Once a month, I drive out to visit my Nana, and we spend an afternoon together.  She is 92, but only just this month agreed to hire a cleaning lady to come & help her around the house.  So, when I visit Nan, usually I do a couple bags of (my) laundry; clean the blades of her ceiling fans; bring things up & down from the basement or attic, pick up a few groceries for her, and take the garbage out.  Usually she’ll want to sit and show me some of her inherited or valued possessions, so that when she dies, I’ll know what to do with (or, in some case, who not to let get) them.

But this weekend, after I watched my two 8K’s in Central Park, I avoided the morbid conversational topics and instead asked her about when she was younger, and “active,” as she calls it. A self-declared beach bum, she went decades without ever missing a day at the beach, where she would arrive before dawn and speed walk all the way from Field 6 to Field 2 (and back) of Jones Beach State Park, a 4-mile trip.  She was so good at this, that when she was in her 70’s, she won a race on that boardwalk sponsored by Perrier water.  I remember her dragging me and my little brother along with her that whole trip, every morning during the summer weeks we’d stay with her.  At 5, 6, 7 years old, it felt endless, and we’d watch for the landmarks that would tick off the distance — the porthole garbage pail, the bath house, the 9-hole golf course, the restaurant, the lifeguard shack.

My Nan also ran, “when it was popular,” she says. I suppose she means during the first running boom of the 1970’s, when I was still under 10 years old, and she would have been in her 60’s and 70’s.  I have memories of her in the get-up, with the tube socks and the headband, but I could be patching those images together from photos I’ve seen of her as a middle-aged woman.  Last year she finally relinquished her orange mesh, reflective safety vest she used to wear when walking around her neighborhood in the early mornings.  She passed it on to me because she knew I ran (in traffic) before dawn and after dusk.

I can vouch that Nana was an endurance swimmer, because I watched her swim laps for hours (again, at Jones Beach). My brother and I would be long-bored with splashing around in the shallow end or cannonballing off the diving board, and she’d still be out there, alternating the crawl and breast strokes.  She was never fast, but she rarely ran out of steam, doing “200 laps before stopping.”  Nan would wear a swim cap, goggles, and pack wool and wax into her ear to prevent her recurring swimmer’s ear.  In the off season, she’d still go and swim outside for as long as they kept the pool open, no matter the water temperature.  I remember us with blue lips & white toes, waiting for her to finish, and how good the hot shower in the locker room and our dry sweatsuits felt afterwards.

Keeping with the family tradition of demonstrating endless astonishment at my running, Nana loves to remind me how I’d beg her to just rest a minute on a bench during our daily constitutional.  Whenever I tell her about my races or training, she laughs, and says “I remember…”  I know, though, that Nana is proud of my running, amazed at the distances I put up.  And, like any Nana who worries about her grandkids, I know she’s reassured that I am “active,” and therefore, doing what I should to to keep myself healthy, and to live a long life. Maybe, even till 92.

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