This Sand is My Land

Written By: Michele Salt Horn

I suppose I should declare that I am from New Jersey.  Yep, a Jersey girl.

Most lifelong, New Jersey residents, like me, are closely tied to the Jersey shore.   Not me.

I grew up with parents who abhorred the shore.  They hated the beach.  You heard me.  I know.

Throughout my childhood, we belonged to a swim club that had a day camp and was nowhere near the ocean and very near our suburban, development, tract house.  It was wonderful.  It was by no means fancy or elite, nor was it a country club and it was…wonderful.

In those days, in our neck of the woods, most of the moms were of the stay at home variety.  Like many of the other area swim clubs that were popular in the 60’s and 70’s, our club was open 6 days a week.  They closed on Mondays.

Faced with long, hot, summer Mondays with no school, no camp, no set activities and no spouse in the house, many moms piled their kids – and yours, too – into a station wagon with wood paneling on the side and drove the one hour down to Phillips Beach.  They could all spend a pleasant day in the hot sun, cool ocean, and be with everyone else they knew.  But not us.

Except us.  Don’t cry.

My father thought that the beach was messy.  Didn’t like the sand.  Especially if said sand made its way into his pristine, washed-thrice-weekly, car.  My mother just didn’t like the beach.  End of discussion.

OK, now you can cry.

I once realized that as a child, my parents took us to the beach exactly 3 times.

Sob uncontrollably.

I’m pretty sure that under the current administration this is now a punishable crime in the Garden State.

Memories are a bit foggy about what we did on Mondays when most of our friends were frolicking in the surf.  Sometimes, I was one of those extra kids that got piled into someone else’s station wagon.  Happy and grateful to be included, it wasn’t a regular part of my childhood.  Oddly, my strongest memories of those trips aren’t of the beach, they are of those roadside farm stands.  We got fresh tomatoes and corn on the way home.

So, when I married a boy from Long Island who agreed to live in New Jersey, he wanted to go to the beach on the East End.  It only took one visit, one trip, one sight, smell, taste – I was hooked.  I didn’t mind that it was 3 hours away without traffic – and when is it EVER without traffic?  Who cared?  Because I knew what was waiting for me at the other end, it never bothered me.  Still doesn’t.

It’s the traffic going home that kills me.

We started going to Amagansett and staying in the dunes.  I would pinch myself when I woke up and heard and then saw the ocean.  Could not believe I was able to sleep footsteps away from, and walk back and forth to, the ocean as many times as I wanted.  And I wanted to, a lot.

Freedom.  Nirvana.  Cue angels singing.

Eventually, we started renting a house in the northwest woods of East Hampton, right next door to the house my college roommate rented with her family.  It was amazing.  And noisy.  Our kids all meshed in ages, were brought up together, called each other cousins, endlessly played happily together and ran back and forth between the 2 houses all day.  We would stay there for 5 utterly, blissful weeks each summer.  I know.

The terrain is very flat and the kids brought bicycles, scooters and roller blades.  I brought helmets, band aids and our insurance cards.  My daughter lost a tooth in a much recalled scooter accident or as she would say, incident.  In fact, there were several lost teeth over those summers.  I recall all of us on our hands and knees sifting through gravel /grass/wood chips for tooth fairy currency.  More than once.

However, we did gain a few shark teeth at the Montauk Lighthouse every time we visited so we probably broke even on the teeth.

When the kids were very young we loved going to Main Beach – who doesn’t like a concession stand?  It’s where we first got hooked on Arnold Palmers.  But when they got just a little bit bigger, the kids, not the drinks, they wanted boogie boards and independence.  That’s when we discovered the small, lesser known, bay beaches.

I had the mandatory, gargantuan SUV.  My college roommate had a station wagon so we could bring enough provisions for 30 people to the beach each day.  We did not travel lightly, OK, I did not travel lightly.

Beach chairs, boogie boards and homemade sandwiches for lunch.  Towels, lots of towels, beach umbrellas, sunscreen, bug spray, beach toys, magazines, beach books for us and school required summer reading for the kids.  They never read those books on the beach.  Ever.   But I felt like a responsible parent lugging them each day.  And wine for the moms – it was afternoon.  Late afternoon.  Somewhere.  Remember, there were 4 kids.  Did I mention that our husbands only came out there on weekends?  4 kids.

Little Alberts Beach was where we landed.  You had to know about it to find it.  It felt like a well-kept secret that we were in on.  We were the initiated.  It was never crowded and because it was a bay beach, the kids could swim, play and boogie board, safely on their own.  We went there almost every day.  It was beautiful.  Life was beautiful.

It was not lost on me that growing up, I had Fat Albert and now my kids had Little Albert.  Hey, hey, hey – not as funny now.

I was the self-anointed project mom at home, at my kids’ school and definitely on those family vacations.  As such, all year I would hunt down a variety of crafts projects and supplies that I would squirrel away and would surprise the kids with on rainy days.  It was also here that I let the kids do the otherwise forbidden-because- it-was-so-messy, Spin Art.  The project that kids love and parents hate – pouring different colors of paint into a contraption that spins the paint into a tie dye like design.  And into your couch and rugs and hair.  Because of this, Spin Art was an outside project.  At my college roommate’s house.

To supplement our kids’ artistic endeavors I would regularly take them to the East Hampton Library where once every week or so, they would have special crafts classes for kids and their parents.  We still have our butterfly house.

One day, I picked up a handful of pretty shells I had gathered on the beach.  They were unusual because of their shape and because they each had a large hole in the center.  I took them home and used the thin, juke cord and beads I had brought and macraméd them into necklaces for all of us.  We looked like a tribe.

An indulgence we allowed our kids was a trip to the ice cream truck that frequented our beach.  More accurately, there were 3 separate ice cream trucks that came at 3 separate times – not always in the same order.  What was remarkable to me was that our kids all favored 1 particular truck and absolutely tuned out the distinct bells and music of the other 2 trucks.  They didn’t even look up or stop what they were doing when they heard them.  But the minute that 3rd truck, their truck, came around they ran like lightening to get their favorite frozen treats.  Positively Pavlovian.

In the evenings when we got back to our houses, we would bathe the kids, put them in pajamas, crank up the stereo and barbecue dinner.  Yes, there was more wine, why do you ask?  We would all be dancing outside to the strains of Van Morrison, the Eagles or Sinatra, or now that the kids were getting taller and could work the stereo, The Spice Girls and N’Sync.  Each one of us could do a mean Macarena.  No, I won’t do it for you now – unless you have wine.

When I hear any of those songs we used to play over and over, they trigger those memories and it feels like yesterday.  I can smell the kids’ shampoo, the fresh basil and mint that I grew, the grill and wet bathing suits hanging over wet towels, drying on the deck.  Summer.

There is something magical in the air on the East End, perhaps originally swirled around by the now dormant windmills, it cast a spell over all of us for life. East Hampton is home and it is part of us and we are part of it.

These incredible, indelible, summer memories have shaped us all.

Hail Springsteen, Billy Joel, and ice cream truck #3!

Life was beautiful.  Life is beautiful.  Amen.

And yes, Cheers!