catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 14 :: 2007.07.13 — 2007.07.27


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I grew up as a landlocked flatlander in a small town in Indiana. We swam five or six times a summer, and it was a big deal driving the miles to a lake. As a 23-year-old, I moved to a small bedroom on 1020 Ocean Avenue in Ocean City New Jersey for the summer. I’d seen the ocean once before, at low tide on a cloudy winter day in South Carolina, and I really didn’t know what the excitement was all about—the ocean I saw crashing onto the beach in Ocean City was an entirely different creature, and the boardwalk seemed an endless playground. I staffed a student leadership project with a rigorous college ministry group, and I helped manage a household of thirty college students from twelve different campuses. And it was summer at the beach. Now, I’m not fond of heat or sun, and my skin hardly shows suntan in-between the freckles, but it was a job, and I loved living in community. I didn’t know yet about the breeze, the constant breeze off the ocean that cools even a large Victorian manor. I did know about the wrap around porch, the rockers, the porch swings for sitting and talking with students. I knew nothing of the constant presence of sand until it fell from everything I owned. I never would’ve guessed in a million years, the value of walking one block and diving into the water to end a hot and sticky day.

Nowadays I live within view of an Atlantic fishing harbor, on an island that seems severely overpopulated at roughly 30,000 inhabitants. One mile to the east is Good Harbor Beach, where tourists happily pay $20 to park for a day of beach fun. I park my car at a coffee shop nearby to walk the mile of white sand, early enough that there is no crowd. My family “goes to the beach” at a more hidden beach north of here, with free on-street parking. One mile to the west is an artsy downtown with high-priced restaurants and shops and gorgeous historic homes.

The story of how I’ve gotten here is the story of my life. In a nutshell, my boyfriend moved here to finish a graduate degree. On a whim, I moved here, too, and both of us had the intention of living in New England for a year. It’s far too expensive and impractical. We were married before Scott’s senior year, and the two of us wrote up grand charts for how we’d decide where to live. One clincher on the list was “great radio stations and newspapers,” and the Boston area is hard to beat on those counts. Somewhere in the process we fell madly in love with a church, and we simply decided not to leave. Another item on our list included “at least one of us has a job we love,” and Scott found the great job to fit that category. And we added a few babies to the sunny condo by the sea.

I love the beach infinitely more when I have the choice to go for a few hours, to not make the trip a big deal. A crate of beach toys lives in the back of the van with the boogie boards and skim boards and the pop-up baseball pitcher and the kite. We walk the beach on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Scott and I take turns waking early to see a sunrise. And children! Children find very little to bicker about while digging and splashing, as long as I pack plenty of snacks. On terribly hot days I pack the sun shelter, and Scott meets us when he gets off work, bringing a pizza and a box of popsicles.

We live where other people vacation, and if children take for granted the beach and the beauty, Scott and I never do. We drive by the ocean every opportunity we get, and we keep an eye on the activity in the city harbor, from our bay window. We pack up everyone and drive to see lovely sunsets in different coves around our island. Every year we lose more friends who must move away to find more affordable housing—that’s the one price almost too hard to bear. Someday we, too, may wake up to the realization that we could live more comfortably in another part of the country, inland. One family we love recently decided to live here for three more years, until their son graduates from high school, then they’ll move to Vermont—as a result, they rent a beautiful, spacious home with ocean views, to treat this three years as a long luxury.

But we’re here. I’ve lived here almost as long as I lived on 409 Plum Street, as a child. Some things will never seem like home to me. But I love the beach after dinner, the magical light streaming in the windows in the winter. I love opening the van doors to find the sand sifting out of the carpet, and the sand in the bottom of my closet, and the sand in the tub, and the sand imbedded in my children’s scalps. When we are away for a few days, we rush toward home and note the first hint of salt air, as we come down the highway. And in summer, on warm days such as these, we note the location on the highway when the air suddenly cools, and the temperature drops as we near the Atlantic. The gull cries tell us we are near, with our heads lolling out the windows drinking in the sea air of home.  

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