The ocean at York, Maine is cold. On the hottest day of summer, when the sand would burn your feet and make you scamper for the wet sand at the water’s edge, the ocean would be cold enough to take your breath, cold enough to turn your lips blue and leave you shivering after just a few minutes in the water.
When I was a boy we would go several times every summer. Short Sands and Long Sands, riding the waves on a blow up float, the Goldenrod restaurant, the big dim arcade with old pinball machines, climbing on the rocks and searching the tidal pools for shells and starfish. Riding back to my grandparents sitting on a towel, and having to hose off the sand before I could go inside.
The Marine Corps brought me south, and stationed me at Beaufort. The beach was close, and we went often to Hunting Island, in all seasons of the year. It started with just the two of us, but life brought us 4 sons, and each in their turn became part of our shared beach memories.
When we moved to North Carolina in the mid ’80s, it was Atlantic Beach and the Outer Banks. We had a 1970 Olds Vista Cruiser station wagon, and we would take the kids, boogie boards, blankets, umbrellas, food, and pile it all in the car and go. It was a regular pilgrimage for us. We would leave late morning, and drive down. Eat lunch when we arrived, then smear on SPF 30 and get out on the beach. The water is warmer in the south, and the boys would spend hours in the surf. We would stay all day, only packing up as the sun was setting. Tired and wind burned, we would trek all the stuff back to the car, and always, religiously, stop and buy 2 large pizzas before we left Morehead City. Eating as we drove, the boys falling off to sleep one by one, each of these days merged with the others like it.
At some point as we rode along, she would put her hand on my arm and murmur, “Well, another perfect day at the beach.”
The boys are all older now, and away, at least for the summer. So once again, it was just the two of us. Hot, bright days. A beautiful deserted stretch of sand. Hours of freedom, reading, combing the sand for shells, riding the waves. Finally, time enough to sit under the umbrella and reminisce about beach days past. Watching the waves and thinking about the timeless nature of the ocean and the fleeting moments we are given.
It was one more perfect day at the beach.
I stooped, and wrote upon the sand
My name, the year, the day.
As onward from the sport I passed,
One lingering look behind I cast,
A wave came rolling high and fast,
And washed my lines away.
Hannah Flagg Gould