Life’s A Beach

Written By: Rich  Scholer

7/7/14 LIFE’S A BEACH (final)1445 words As a child I was luckier than most because I grew up poor. Invariably starting at the bottom gives you the advantage of experiencing every step of life’s journey with greater appreciation. I think the most ironic part about growing up poor was that I never realized we were poor until I matured. Although we were without many materialistic things I was blessed with a loving family. In 1936 I was born in what is now New York Presbyterian Hospital. Back then we lived on 125th Street in Harlem. When I was about six years old my dad said we were moving to the country. We moved to Queens. The apartment my family rented in Bellerose was above the Belt Park Tavern. I lived there throughout my younger and teenage years. My room had a view that overlooked Jamaica Avenue, the Shell gasoline station across the street and the Q-36 bus stop which was just fifteen feet from my bedroom window. The fumes from the gas station were usually overpowered by the diesel fumes from the Q-36 bus. At night I put up with the fights, cursing, and noise that came from the bar below. We couldn’t afford an air conditioner but I didn’t care because I was so grateful for what I had, my own room. My mom was raised in Saint John’s Newfoundland on Saint John’s Bay. My grandfather was a Whaler and Sealer and hunted whales and seals. Mom would tell me exciting stories of Newfoundland and share with me the tales that my grandfather told her about his adventures at sea. She would often say these were the days of Iron men and wooden ships. It was a time when brawny men, like my grandfather, traveled the Atlantic Ocean in small human-powered open wooden boats using a hand-thrown harpoon to harvest Whales. Her stories and the songs of sea-going fishermen are as vivid in my mind today as the day she told them. During my younger years I found myself continually searching for that fascinating world that Mom described to me. I became passionate about finding a place that to some extent mirrored her stories. The years flew by as I made my way through the NYC School system and college in Colorado. I joined the New York State Police in 1962 and was the last Trooper to close the Southold barracks. While I was living at the Riverhead barracks and patrolling the south fork of Long Island I abruptly realized that this area was probably the closest I would ever come to finding anything similar to the world my Mom described. I started reading stories of the south fork. Its history became more endearing as each day passed. This was my first real exposure to the East End. It was the start of a love affair that I’ve had with the ocean of Eastern Long Island for the past half of a century. I was becoming hopelessly attached to the area. The bay, the ocean, the fishing, the people, and the nautical atmosphere all helped to reaffirm my thoughts and feelings for the East End. During those years I would often drive to one of the ocean beaches and enter into the world that was lodged somewhere within the confines of my internal subconscious thoughts. I became mesmerized by the ocean and often would find myself staring out into the deep and recollecting my mom’s stories and songs. As the years passed into the late sixties and seventies my career on the NYSP advanced with assignments and promotions throughout the state. In 1966 I married the girl of my dreams and shortly thereafter found out she was a descendant of the Halsey family of Southampton. It was during the early seventies that we purchased a modest summer home in Hampton Bays. My mother’s stories continued to stimulate that intrinsic desire I had to enter into my other world near the ocean. Over the next ten years I retired from the State Police, receive a Masters Degree from C.W. Post, a Captains license from the US Coast Guard, and spent as much time as I could, on the East End, near the sea. For countless years I’ve fished the offshore Atlantic canyons and shorelines of Easthampton and Southampton. In the late nineties the bride and I purchased an open bay beach cottage with a view of Shinnecock Bay. About a football field east of our beach house is a parcel of bay frontage called East Point that is managed by Peconic Trust. Often I’ll walk the shore-line of this scenic, native, untouched piece of nature feeling removed from today’s world as I enter a part of humanity that has somehow remained pristine, intact, almost as if it were, frozen in time. The beauty of the shoreline’s unique flowing outline is formed by the tides and currents of the nearby Shinnecock Inlet. Even though we now live on the bay, I still have an unexplained obsession to be at an ocean beach. It is the only way I can satisfy that inherent, mysterious, constant desire I have to be near the sea. Now, at age seventy-seven time and again I find myself in the late afternoon sitting very close to the ocean’s shoreline just a few feet from the breaking surf at Ponquogue, Montauk or Cooper’s beach. There is nothing like a view from the beach. I frequently go into a trance while gazing out over the ocean. Invariably I’m overcome with this exhilarating, stimulating, wondrous feeling. My initial thoughts are always centered on where I’m coming from. I seem to always relive those moments in time when I was a teenager looking at Jamaica Avenue from my bedroom window. Invariably I will recall the echo of sirens and fell that tense the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. My very next thought always brings me back to the present and the reality of the moment. No matter how many hours I spent watching, the ocean continues to fascinate me and has done so most of my life. My mother’s songs and stories are as distinct today as they were when she originally told them to me over sixty years ago. Regularly I will mumble or hum the tune of “Jack was every inch a sailor, four and twenty years a Whaler.” Invariably while I’m on the beach my thoughts are not on the present but conversely they’re centered on the past as I gaze at the same body of water that my grandfather sailed on so many years ago. I recall one particular day last fall that I walked the beach at Shinnecock Inlet. The piercing, biting, sting of the wind felt chilling as it rebounded from my face only to be sucked up by a towering sand dune. The ocean had a majestic roar as the surf pounded the earth’s surface while bellowing a slow hissing sound as the tidal current drew the surface water back, through the sand, into its body. With a piercing radiance, the sun’s rays infiltrated the light fog bank that was slowly rising while its warm rays created a sparkling effect as if diamonds were dancing on the ocean’s surface. The soothing October winds started out warm and then turned cool as they skipped along the surface of the sea bouncing in and out of the troughs of rolling waves that were methodically making their way to shore. In the background, the inimitable sounds of seagulls and sandpipers bellowed in the distance. Many times I have tried to capture this moment. I wanted to seize it and put it in a box and open up that box whenever I felt troubled. I can vividly recall closing my eyes and wondering what the answer was to the mystery that made these moments so enjoyable. Then as if a door were opened I realized that a large part of the moment was the smell of the ocean. It was not only the smell but that damp wet feeling instilled throughout my body by the salted moist air. These are the moments of a lifetime that I can only feel when I’m close to the sea. I’m rich beyond compare when I live or resurrect these moments and memories of this love affair that I’ve had with the east end. My day by the sea always end with these thoughts, I know where I’m at and will never forget where I came from. Like many other people I’m not sure where I’m going next. I think you know by now that, in my world, life’s a beach. Rich Scholer Note to editor: Rich Scholer has authored six series books about the Hamptons, Armonk and the treasure coast of Florida. The protagonist Michael “Mickey” Ross has a summer home on Dune Road in Southampton. These novels are available through Barnes &Nobel or Amazon Books. The author is presently dealing with stage 4 heart failure.