Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Something In the Water

I crossed the bridge into Stone Harbor and it happened just like it has every time since I first started coming here at the age of one or two. My heart soared but my heart rate slowed. My body relaxed as if it recognized home. When I'm here, my brain teems with ideas, but rejects tension. It's magical.

My husband started commenting on my yearly transformation after his first few summers here with me. In the beginning he had compared this quaint town to the upscale Hamptons where he'd worked as a teen. (Frankly, he was rather elitist-sounding, given that his time in the Hamptons had been spent cooking hotdogs and sleeping at the golf club's halfway house)!

Our beaches aren't long, private affairs. They come and go depending on the years' storms. But they are inviting and they are where I've walked with my folks, my friends, my loves, my children, as well as my many selves for close to 50 years.

When I was little, we rented a house on 104th St. It was just one house from the beach. I remember its garage had been converted into a small guest suite connected to the house by a breezeway. That's where my great-grandmother, Nana, stayed. I was sitting there with her the time my brother somehow "cracked his head open" at the miniature golf course.

When I was six, we went down one January weekend to find a rental for the coming summer. It was freezing in the house, and mom must have taken us back to sit in the car to stay warm. My father came back outside with the realtor to ask if she liked that house. When she confirmed, he replied " I just bought it". Good thing she said yes.

There were only a few times in his life that my dad made big spontaneous decisions. He was a careful, methodical, practical man who prided himself on both his Scottish heritage and approach to spending. Yet, once in a while he would do something bold that seemed out of character and I think that half the motivation must have been the sheer glee he took in surprising us. Funny, as I look back, even those seemingly impulsive investments ended up paying off big time.

I have this sneaking suspicion that despite his deliberateness, my Dad had a bit of intuition. Maybe that's where I get mine. He must have known that his $30,000 investment in 1967 would pay dividends far beyond just financial gains. My happiest memories are from the shore. From doing handstands on the beach, playing Harriet the Spy in town, earning my Copper Kettle Fudge money via a carefully mapped public pay phone change-receptacle route, landing my first job at 14 at The Black-Eyed Susan Shop where I learned the hard lessons of paycheck versus pay for layaway. Stone Harbor was also the site of my first dance, first date, first boyfriend, first hangover, first apartment, first roommate, first broken heart.

As I walked the beach today, and thought about it all, I realized how many stories I have from this one seven mile island. This looks to be the first of many. Hope you'll bear with me.


  1. I literally can picture this place via your blog. I love that you have a place that "rejects tension". what a gift your father gave you and a gift that you and Phil are now giving to your children. enjoy your summer there my Mid Chix friend.

  2. We should all be so lucky to have such a place. I am. Wolf, Wyoming does the same for me. Every summer for years and years, though, sadly it has now been 10 years since my last visit. A lot of firsts happened there. The wide open spaces of the plains leading up to the Big Horn Mountains is definitely where I need to go when I start feeling a little claustrophobic. Thanks for these images.

  3. Nice! I had a place in Avalon from 1997-1999....miss the Shore!

    There was always something awesome about going over that big bridge....

  4. Thx are so right-glad to hear from a fellow "shore lover"

  5. Dear Gretchen. Thank you for sharing this story and I wait with bated breath to read more of them. I do agree there is a magic power about that bridge that I have not felt going over other island bridges. I have tears of joy and happiness as I look at the picture above of the Sand Bar. So many great memories there for me too. Walking the beach, body surfing, riding bikes every morning to pick up fresh donuts, playing cards in the evening, shell collecting and painting, taking your brother veal loaf sandwiches as he lifeguarded. And of course, sitting on the front porch every morning after cherishing that yummy cream donut to watch the lifeguards parade by one by one to take their post workout showers.

    One funny story I remember is my dad and I riding bikes one morning for donuts, I rode myself smack into a parked car and was so embarrassed I rode right back home with out the donuts!
    OK-now I have to ask. WHERE did you find the owl wallpaper on this page? I'm having visions of it from Mimi's arts and crafts projects!

  6. Sandy, so fun to hear from you and know you know exactly what I mean! It has been a nice walk down memory lane this week! The paper is compliments of check them out! xxoo

  7. I can relate to this. We spent a few weeks each summer on Long Beach Island. It was always low key- beach, books, food, family, friends... repeat.

    I especially liked the line about "your many selves".