Our Beach

Written By: Karen Montalbano

It’s just a stretch of sand and too many rocks connecting a dead end road with Little Peconic Bay in North Sea. It’s as far “north of the highway” as you can get. Time and regular dredging of the nearby inlet changes the topography each year, yet it always seems to look the same. And it is filled with memories. Those remembrances extend back decades. Mom’s family started renting in the area in the 1930’s. She tells stories of rowing with her cousins and brothers from the end of Roses Grove Road where the casino piers were destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938, past this beach to drag the rowboat across the inlet into the neighboring pond. They would crab and clam in that pond, something now strictly forbidden according to a sign posted by the town trustees. They would explore the nearby woods and a deserted bootlegger’s house with views of the bay from the second floor balcony. One time the water was so rough that they finally decided to row to shore and drag the boat back along the shoreline. Her cousin was so happy to reach dry ground she knelt down and kissed the sand. In the early 1950’s grandpa decided to buy land after he was told the house he usually rented was no longer going to be available. Remembering the devastation she saw after the Hurricane of ’38, grandma decided against waterfront property so they chose a lot a block away from the beach. That shared stretch of sand became a focal point of our summers. The beach always seemed filled with family and friends. Some traveled out and stayed for a short while. Others lived nearby and would meet daily on the sand to chat, watch the children and take a dip. An avid swimmer, mom taught not only her children, but many of her nieces and nephews as well as their friends how to swim and respect the water. She claims her only spectacular failure was her husband who never overcame his fear. Dad always said he could “swim like a rock.” But you didn’t have to swim to enjoy the water. I recall my grandmother’s contemporaries bringing down their aluminum lawn chairs to sit on the beach in their baggy, cotton swim suits that looked more like dresses. When they felt too hot, they would cross the rocks in their sneakers and walk in the water up to their waist. Then they would sink in up to their necks, their feet never leaving terra firma under the aqua. As children we seemed to spend as much time on the beach building elaborate castles as we did in the water. Sometimes we would create rooms walled in by sand and furnish them with shells and rocks. Or we would walk down to “the rocks,” boulders of broken concrete that still line the edge of the inlet. Often we would climb over to sit and fish, catching eels and blowfish. We hung out with kids from the other side of the community as teenagers, and could more often be found at the other right of way which had a floating dock we called “the raft.” Those were the years we also spent a lot of time on boats and waterskiing, often in front of the beach. My children brought me back to the beach at the end of the road. It was an easy walk back and forth to the house with all the necessary “stuff.” Mom taught her grandchildren to swim. They may not be ready for the Olympics, but they’re capable of moving through the water and floating around. My acquisition of a kayak took us further off-shore and exploring the shoreline from a different perspective. I recall the many evenings my parents would walk down to catch the sunset. Real estate ads describe those sunsets as “stunning.” Like the beach, they are always familiarly beautiful, but never the same. There are so many memories. Walking the shoreline looking for shells and beach glass. Learning to water ski with my friends. The time my daughter and her high school friends were swamped by the waves and sunk the kayak. Her amazement at the gigantic chunks of ice in the frozen bay in the wintertime. There was a September afternoon a few years ago. We feasted on a tray of figs that mom’s childhood friend brought to the beach, newly picked from the tree her late mother had planted. It was a shared moment of people whose lives have intertwined for decades, a remembrance of those who came before us and left their imprint. My grandmother’s contemporaries have been replaced by my mother and her contemporaries. Despite difficulty walking across the stones and sand, mom still enjoys going to the beach and swimming. Everyone still seems to know everyone else. People talk while in the water and while sitting on the beach. Some are stories often repeated, others are new. There are as many stories as rocks there. The beach is a link to the past and to the future, existing from glacial times before us and hopefully extending past us through global warming. It is the beach of our memories.