|Image Courtesy of Brooklyn Memories; the website is a treasure trove of old Brooklyn photos.|
When I was a child, lo these many years ago, our yearly trip to the Jersey shore was an exciting adventure. There was no Verrazano Bridge, so we took the ferry from Brooklyn to Staten Island. I remember my mother making sandwiches for the trip, which now takes little over an hour. Back then the distances seemed enormous and the trip lengthy; the destination, Bradley Beach, thrilling. I was just at the shore visiting my family, and because I go there rarely, the old memories filled my thoughts. Like last year, when I wrote about it, I remembered Joe Brainard's wonderful book I Remember, and want to give a brief attempt at an "I remember" of my own.
I remember the generous porches, and that one year from a porch like this my friends and I played Robin Hood, the raised porch being perfect for dramatic climbs and hidden princesses.
I remember having crushes on the lifeguards, especially Donny; they were so beautiful, so strong, so wonderful. I remember being made aware of Vietnam and counterculture by a lifeguard on the Second Avenue beach whose name is lost to me. He showed us issues of underground magazines such as The Realist and Ramparts, very unexpected during the lazy days of summer. I believe that my political consciousness was awakened during those summers.
I remember the poles connected by ropes that demarcated the safe swimming area.
I remember learning to ride the waves on my father's back.
I remember the cool sand in the shade under the raised sections.
I remember the delicious feel underfoot as I walked from the gritty cement sections of sidewalk to the smooth slate. On some days it was very hot so I tried to walk on as much cool grass as possible.
I remember coming home with sandy feet, and legs, and a bathing suit full of sand, and standing in the outdoor shower to wash it all off before going into the house.
I remember, not this small bandshell, but the large pavilion of my youth, a structure built on the boardwalk out over the beach. There were teen dances held every week, opportunities for youthful anxieties and dancing the lindy, the twist, the mashed potatoes, with my girlfriends.
I remember pinball at the penny arcade, body pushing against machine, trying to keep the ball in play. I wasn't very good at it.
I remember "fishing" in the lake separating Bradley from Avon. My father would fashion a net out of window screening tied at four corners with string. We'd lower it into the lake and catch guppies (were they actually guppies? I don't know but that's what we called them), watch them flop around for a couple of minutes, and throw them back.
I remember, when this park had swings, swinging back and forth with a friend and loudly and happily singing "Feelin' Groovy". We were feeling young and childish, since we were already an ancient 17 or 18 years old.
I remember the treat of family dinners at Vic's, with their great pizza and thick tomato sauce on spaghetti.
I do not remember healthy food at the beach or on the boardwalk. I remember candy apples and cotton candy and salt water taffy and Pez and Good Humor bars, especially Strawberry Shortcake.
I remember the entire family loaded into the car to go to Spring Lake to feed the ducks, and to drive around looking at the beautiful houses....
.....not only in Spring Lake, but also in Deal, where grand houses elicited oohs and aahs from us. They seemed of another time, almost fairytale-like. It was only years later, after painting images of Victorian architecture for several years, that I realized how important those drives were in giving me a subject for my work. Nostalgia for childhood summers, as I wrote in the blog post "Nostalgia as Inspiration", colored my artistic development. I can still remember the awe I felt seeing these houses, and I hope the sense of wonder never leaves.