Life’s a beach, and then you dive.
A variation on another familiar saying, but one I think is more fun and much more optimistic.
The sand, the surf, the constancy of the sun, the ebb and flow of the tides, what lies on the surface, what lies below. You never know what you’ll find along a walk on the beach: an intact seashell, an abandoned plastic shovel, a discarded snack wrapper, an earring, a ball that rolled away.
The beach was as big a part of my growing up in Brooklyn as it could have been. For my husband, Jeff, who was raised in Long Beach, N.Y., the beach was even more of the fabric of his young life. He grew up in the South Shore beach town whose population swelled during the high summer season. But for us, Brighton Beach, the sibling of Coney Island on Brooklyn’s southern tip, wasn’t exactly our neighborhood. But it was a short drive away, and it was our Riviera.
Our family would venture out each Sunday during the summer months to Brighton. Typically, we wouldn’t leave until later in the afternoon — not because we were trying to avoid the most dangerous hours in the sun, for who paid attention to the dangers of UV in those days? We left later in the afternoon because it took us that long to get our ducks in place and get out of the house. We were dressed in our bathing suits beneath our clothing — a time saver. And we packed our food for a late lunch. My mother would fill a picnic carryall with American cheese sandwiches on rye, cucumbers, tomatoes, the requisite onion (for my father), a thermos full of homemade sweetened and lemony iced tea, and fruit — ripened peaches, plums, and green and yellow grapes.
Finally, we piled into the Chevy and off we’d go. My parents preferred to set up camp in the park next to the beach, which was populated with like-minded and like-mannered folks. The park was filled with survivors of the Shoah, now Brooklyn residents, who sought the respite of the beach during those sweltering days. In that park, I would hear Yiddish conversation, smell cigarette smoke mixed with Coppertone, and watch as they played animated card games. There was levity and relaxation on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Once we set down our blanket on an empty patch of grass, we’d head to the water — as it was getting late. On the beach and finally in the water, I would jump the waves, play, splash, and, with the help of my father, learn how to swim.
When I think about my parents, yes, life was a beach, and they dove.
Fast forward to this summer, and we are visiting our dear friends, the Kaufmans, at their charming house in Bradley Beach. Since the kids were little, we’ve taken them to Bradley Beach with the Kaufmans. Not being a Jersey girl, I didn’t know the joys of the Jersey Shore until I became an adult, and I was unfamiliar with the family- and frum-friendly community of Bradley Beach until we started our annual tradition of visiting with the Kaufmans.
We were there for the first true summer weekend, July 4th, and the beach was cheek-to-jowl filled with enthusiasts who put down blankets, umbrellas, and themselves. On that day, the water was so cold that only the most brave or most foolish went full-body in.
Seeing our teenage children now, remembering the little ones they had been on this same sand and surf years ago, made me both nostalgic and hopeful. For the weekend, for the summer, and, despite the inevitable ebbs and flows, for the future.
Life sometimes is a beach — a real beach. But what to do?