Summer at the Beach

Summer at the Beach By Jody Bier Lawrence The first photograph taken of Summer was as she slept in the arms of my Dad. My growing up had been filled with stories of his dog, Nellie, who had followed him home and became his that same day. I am a dog lover because of him and so it was only fitting that this new Golden Retriever puppy be stroked on the soft bridge above her nose by those familiar, strong fingers whose size almost obscured the whole of her nine-week old face. My special time with Summer was at Cryder Beach in Southampton. We would walk from the car in the small parking lot with her red collar circling the gloriously silken fur and its matching leash attaching her to me. The sandy path was narrow between the tall grass of the dunes and we would walk single file with her leading the way. The sheer expanse of the beach in front of us was stunning each time it came into view. Then when we reached the sand that had been made damp and hard from the water, I would remove her leash. Before taking off at break neck speed, she would turn her handsome, blonde head back towards me and smile as if to say thank you for bringing me here. I would trail behind, enjoying her pure joy as she raced along the water’s edge. She would always circle back to let me know that she remembered that we had come here together. Then she would take off again. Summer was taught to swim in the ocean by a yellow lab belonging to the owner of the Village Latch Inn. He was there often and vacationed in Florida so it was no surprise that he was an experienced swimmer. Summer watched him with his broad chest charging into the water to retrieve worn tennis balls. Although tentative at first, she was soon bounding into the waves, taking turns with her new friend at bringing back the tennis ball. Running into the midst of birds congregating on the sand was a favorite pastime of hers. The piping plovers would torture her, flying in wide circles out to the ocean and then over to the houses behind the dunes. They appeared to want to wear her out for disturbing them. It seemed to me that all the concern about protecting them would be reevaluated if their behavior toward Summer were to be observed. If our walks on the beach were not early enough so that we were alone, we sometimes encountered issues with Summer’s lack of training. She would grab sandwiches from people enjoying their lunch on the beach. I was never quite close enough to prevent this but would come upon the hungry victims after Summer had already run off. I would apologize profusely and offer to fetch them new sandwiches. But, most often, they would shake their heads and tell me not to worry about it. This happened often enough that I did think I should simply go to the Blue Duck Bakery and arm myself with turkey or ham sandwiches on rustique bread to hand out to those who had lost their lunch. It was on a cool day in August 2010 that my younger daughter, Carly came to the beach with Summer and me. Tara, my older daughter was working at the waterfront at a camp in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. Carly never liked to go to the beach with Summer because she was always afraid that something would happen. She joined us this time because she wanted to see Summer wearing her new seatbelt in the car. When we arrived at Cryder Beach, Carly held Summer’s leash and walked with her down to the water as I followed them. She let her off the leash and Summer went into the ocean up to her elbows. Suddenly, Summer went under the water. I rushed in and pulled her out. Carly watched stricken on the sand closeby as I tried to revive her. But Summer was gone. The vet later said that Summer had a heart condition that had gone undetected. She compared it to a high school basketball player who takes the last shot, wins the game and then collapses. The exact diagnosis is foggy to me now as was the explanation for the loss of my Dad just three months earlier. Dad’s last year and a half were mostly spent in hospitals as he seemingly went from one problem to the next. It was torture for him not to be in his own home. The length of time that he was confined to a hospital bed did little to prepare us for that phone call that came in the middle of the night. We would never be ready to say goodbye to his gentle smile, sense of humor and guidance. Dad had always encouraged us with a favorite line, “There’s always one left.” I couldn’t help but think after that phone call, if only that could apply to one more day with you, Dad. Summer was five years old when we lost her. But, at least we know that she was with her family at the end and at the place she loved the most, the beach at Southampton. Now as I walk the beach alone and see paw prints in the sand, I remember the zigzag of Summer’s prints as she raced along the water’s edge. She was a blur in the distance as she would race ahead and I choke up as I think of the memories that she has left behind.