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At the Beach: 1966

In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.   Albert Camus

A foot of new snow hangs heavy on the pines in our backyard, the chickadees flit from snowy feeder to snowy feeder, and the rooftops are frosted in a thick coating of white – it’s a winter wonderland in our neighborhood and I’m a gal who loves winter.  In fact, I’m about to pull on the long johns, the ski pants, the high tech jacket and take off on a two-hour skate-ski on my favorite trail, the one that points me up into the wild hills and the land of the wolves.  I’m a gal who loves winter; yet, it’s the summer I have on my mind.  Perhaps it’s because my friend, B.G. Bradley, teacher/writer/poet/actor extra-ordinaire, is performing tonight at Joy Center, sharing in poems and stories his memories of summertime on a lake in northern Michigan.  Perhaps it’s because underneath all this glorious white, there is a kaleidoscope of color just waiting to burst forth and I can feel it in my bones.  Whatever the reason, I’ve dabbed my neck with the perfume, “At the Beach: 1966”, and I’m full of my own summertime memories of Coppertone and sea salt and sand between my little girl toes:

I loved the days that I spent with my friend, Sally, at Reid State Park, the great stretch of coastal Maine shoreline, with its huge sand beach, its breaker waves, its rocky peninsula of picnic tables, and the lagoon of warm water that filled itself up at high tide. I loved beach days during my childhood summers in Maine during the 1960’s.

My mother wasn’t a state park kind of mother.  Instead, she was satisfied with her small seaweedy beach, her seaside gardens, her days that stretched out wide and long.  She was satisfied to traipse out onto the rocks of her own little cove with her tubes of paint and her thick watercolor paper.  The intense sun, the smell of Coppertone, the beach umbrellas, the throngs of beach bodies, they were not for my mother.  But Sally’s round jolly mother, Mrs. Shea, she loved it.  She loved it all: the picnic lunches of fluffer-nutter sandwiches, the homemade chocolate cupcakes covered in thick boiled-sugar frosting, the days of sitting on the beach, sprawled out on a colorful towel reading a good book.  Mrs. Shea, she was a beach Mom!

And Sally and I were bold.  We weren’t afraid of the water because we were little mermaids; that’s what my father called us.  We rode the waves into shore, sometimes letting them smack right into us, letting them knock us down, pull us out to sea, letting them toss us back onto the sand again for yet another wild ride.  We inhaled it all, the salt air, the cry of the gulls, the whoops and hollers of our fellow swimmers.  And when we turned blue and teeth-chattering cold, we said good-by to the open ocean and scampered barefoot over the hot sand and the boardwalk path to the lagoon where we caught minnows in our plastic pails.  And, one time, Sally caught a teeny fish in her very own belly button.

And when I returned home again to our cottage and Fish House Cove, filled with fluffer-nutters and cupcakes and all the things that my artist mother didn’t like about the state beach, she would haul out her box of homoepathic remedies.  She would reach in and find the bottle marked, Hypericum.  And she’d measure out a splash into a glass of warm water, and, with a soft cotton ball, she’d swab this coppery-concoction onto my back.  I’d wince a little at the coolness, then I’d sigh, sink into the smell and the touch and the way my mother, my nonstate-park-mother, knew just what to do for my sunburned back.

Fish House Cove by Annie P. Haskell

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