Back to Her Beach
BACK TO HER BEACH by Kathleen McCormack “No! No!” “Don’t do it!” ‘Big mistake!” But we did do it. Despite all the protests of friends and family, Mary and I headed off on our Sentimental Journey to the beach of our childhood. Our car ride was chatty and exciting and fun until we turned into Aunt Bessie’s street. Then we didn’t talk, and we didn’t look. This was the moment and suddenly all the warnings seemed valid. 1,2,3 eyes right ! Eek! Shriek! The house stood and looked exactly as we remembered. Incredible. Its neighbors were McMansions, but our place, the one that Dad said felt like a phone booth when we were all indoors on rainy days , was standing on its corner lot with its narrow burnt-out lawn, two windows on each side of the front door, and three shallow wooden steps. Shame it was no longer white with black shutters, but a variation in paint wasn’t going to diminish our joy. “Hey Mary! Look, there are two people sitting at a picnic table in the back! Stop. Pull over. We can ask them questions, and chat.” “Are you mad? Really? They’re strangers and we’re strangers. Anyway we need to check into our B&B. We can come back. Surely we will come back.” Mary sped up while I mumbled, “Maybe they won’t be here when we come back.” But they were, and they were thrilled to see us. Seems they had bought the house from our Mom, and over the years they had heard stories from everyone about our great aunt, Mrs. Bennett, who had built the house. She had been a local land and business owner in the early 1900’s. Everyone admired her and treated her with the greatest respect. We were always identified as Mrs. Bennett’s family which mystified the seven-year-old me, since to us she was Aunt Bessie. The owners of her house yearned for our tales of summer. They poured us chilled white wine while we talked about eating breakfast and lunch on the back steps, and swapping our morning bathing suits for our afternoon bathing suits in the garage. If anyone could keep a beach house free of sand, it was our Aunt Bessie. Our brother slept on the couch, while Mary shared the back bedroom with Aunt Bessie. I slept in the front bedroom with my parents. They had a rather small double bed and I had a cot under the windows. I loved lying there in the early morning hours watching the dog walkers and baby carriages pass by. Aunt Bessie had owned a big house on the beach, but sold it to build her wee cottage on the street. That never made any sense to me, but Mom said Aunt Bessie needed to see what was going on. Certainly no one passed the house without pausing to wave and chat. Mary and I thanked our friendly hosts and headed to town for some pasta at the mom and pop place of our childhood. Then we got our traditional ice cream cones, and sat on a bench people-watching. Some stores were different and many of the tall graceful elms were gone, but the salty evening breeze and the carefree atmosphere were exactly as we remembered. In the morning we put on our bathing suits as soon as we awoke. (Gotta say “Good morning” to the ocean!) We splashed and tumbled in the white frothy breakers as if we were little girls. The ageless ocean makes everyone ageless. It was gorgeous, steady and unchanged. Then we walked down the beach for coffee and bagels at the pavilion. “Look, Mary. Some old people. I bet they knew Aunt Bessie.” “You are NOT going to walk up and ask them !” “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do.” Well after a brief introduction, the women stated in unison, “Why you are Loretta’s girl!” (That’s when Mary slipped in, since she saw it was going well.) They told us how much Mrs. Bennett loved having us visit. “She talked for weeks about your arrival date.” That was thrilling for us to hear, because as grown women, Mary and I often pondered what it was like for Aunt Bessie, a childless widow, to have all five of us move in for most of the summer. Seemed a unbearable situation to us, but God bless Aunt Bessie and God bless the testimony of those old women. Her generous hospitality saved us from sweltering city streets, and her genuine love enabled her to endure the crowding, the noise, the confusion and the clutter. In the afternoon we returned to the beach to walk the edge of the sea, and take a few detours into the water. Then we sat in the shallows allowing the mini waves to roll up our legs and splash our tummies. Children were running from sea to sand, playing their games that had been our games. “C’mon” Mary said. “I need a shower.” I didn’t move so she leaned down and whispered, “It’s their turn!” Then she pulled me to standing, and we walked arm-in-arm back to the car feeling melancholy, as well as sandy and sunburnt. Later, Mary and I made gin and tonics, and laughed about the big green bottle that lived on Aunt Bessie’s kitchen table. “The smell of gin,” Mary said, “it always reminds me of her and our summers at her beach.” “Oh I wish we could make her a drink. How fabulous would it be to chat with her about our memories, and listen to her talk about her life.” “Mighty special,” Mary sighed. Then she added vigorously, “We could thank her. I really wish we could tell her how grateful we are.” “She knows, Mary. She knows.” We clinked our glasses, wiped our tears and laughed. Then before we sipped our gin, we took a long slow sniff.