I can count the number of times our family
went to the beach during my childhood on the fingers of two hands.

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Brother Henry, Daddy, me, Vicky. Summer of 1954. The only day that year we would go swimming. What a thrill to wear a bathing suit, play with Daddy for four hours in the middle of the day, and listen to Vicky’s stories about how often she went swimming in New York City.

Right now I am living at a beach house

with my family for a whole week.

I love the smell of ocean air,

the sound of crashing waves along the sandy shore,

the azure sky dotted with cirrus clouds,

the moon expanding every night (waxing gibbous phase),

sunsets over the bay,

delicious meals served up by adult children,

and most of all, little arms and little voices, so loving and innocent.

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Julia and Owen teaching me about their favorite stories.

My grandchildren have visited many beaches.

I get to make up for my beach-deprived childhood

by snuggling with these two every day

here on Long Beach Island.

I like Jenny Joseph’s famous poem

which suggests that the task of an “old woman” like me is to

make up for the “sobriety of my youth.”

“Sobriety” has one thing to recommend it.

It helps you not take a week at the beach for granted.

I loved my youth, AND I love reliving it through the eyes of children and grandchildren, enjoying vacation together.

No cows to milk twice a day!

No office beeping me!

I love this stage of life, partly because it includes all the other stages.

What memories do you have from the beach in childhood? Adulthood? Can you remember all the sensory details from long ago? Does the ocean have a special pull on your imagination?

Shirley Showalter

35 Comments

  1. Diane on August 27, 2015 at 10:05 am

    grew up in ohio. didn’t see the beach until i was 13. love at first sight.

  2. Carol on August 27, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I can only recall one time that our family, including Dad, took a vacation. One day, we drove to Galena, Illinois, and saw where President Ulysses S. Grant lived. The thing I remember most was that Mom got each of us kids a pair of pink plastic sunglasses. I am amazed there are no pictures of this vacation, which lasted only one day because of course it had to fit in between milking cows morning and night.

    • shirleyhs on September 1, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Wow, Carol. That’s a hoot. Was your dad or mom a history buff? My kids complained when we dragged them to author’s homes or historical sites. But for you, Ulysses S. Grant must have been forever associated with treasure — pink plastic sunglasses for all.

      Sure wish you had a picture, but you have a lot of other great ones. I especially enjoy the photos you post on our I Grew Up Country FB page. Hope others here will join us.

      Sorry it took me so long to see this comment. Still working out the glitches in website transition.

  3. Alice on August 27, 2015 at 10:17 am

    My first beach vacation came at age 9-almost-10. My mother, grandmother, and I flew from Pittsburgh to Newark, where Grandma’s brother Ray picked us up and drove us south to his house in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island. By the time we got to Beach Haven, the rain had been falling for a while and the streets were flooded over the tall curbs. The next day, the flooding was gone and the beach awaited. We were half a block away. Mom, Grandma and I walked over the high sand and down to look at the magnificent Atlantic Ocean, bottle green and frothy, immense and intense. It was early June. I was out of school, but the New Jersey kids were not. The beach was deserted. Mom was terrified of the water and took some photos. Grandma and I shucked our shoes and stood in the waves, holding hands for dear life. She said the waves would take us out to sea because our feet were being covered, wave by wave, by sand. We stood at the very edge of the water. Once, the hem of Grandma’s lavender dress was splashed with a wave. There is one photo of my mother. I’m standing with her by one of the enormous rock jetties: she is petrified. Instead of enjoying the very edge of the water, I collected shells. Eight years ago, I returned. It was the same ocean, immense and intense, and bottle green. This time I had the camera. I collected photos of everything in sight, became a photographer, and published an article about my return to LBI in the Sandpaper. Made all the way of $40!

    • shirleyhs on September 1, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Alice, first my sincere apology for not seeing this comment until now. I’m still working out kinks in a website transition and am not getting email notifications of comments. My apologies.

      And now, to this incredible story with its serendipitous connection to my own. I wrote this story on Long Beach Island, my first visit ever. Our son and his family “discovered” this location early this year and recommended it to the rest of the family. We rented a house for the week and loved the location. We were very close to Beach Haven. So when you talk about cresting the high sand and seeing that immense, intense expanse of ocean, I am right there with you!

      You are a beautiful writer and deserve every penny of that $40!!!

      I want to learn more about you. Do you blog?

  4. shirleyhs on August 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Isn’t it amazing when you crest the hill and see that amazing sight? Even after many years, I inhale deeply at the very moment of meeting.

    Good to see you here again, Diane. I need to go pay a call on you, too!

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  5. Janet Givens on August 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

    i grew up in New Jersey where no one goes to “the beach.” We go “down the shore.” I have many memories of going down the shore (for whatever ready, we didn’t ever go “to the shore”), whether it was Asbury Park or Ocean Grove with my grandmother or, later, Sea Side or Long Beach Island with a date. I loved the power of the waves, the feel of the sun on my skin, the smell of the salt air, and the taste of those sausage and pepper sandwiches. Thanks for the trip back, Shirley.

    • shirleyhs on August 27, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Well then, Janet. I’m in your territory right now. Great week with children and grandchildren. And yes, for our Jerseyites, we’re at “the shore.” Same for Pennsylvanians. Not sure about Virginians. But as Sherrey says below, the Oregonians go to “the coast.” I used “beach” because everyone seems to understand the term. I love the word “sea” as in ‘wide Sargasso sea,” too.

      • Ruby Sawin on August 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm

        Living in Arkansas and Kansas didn’t provide many opportunities for “beach” memories. But hearing you talk of the beach makes me think the first sight must be much like I experienced driving across Kansas and flat Eastern Colorado and then, miraculously seeing the first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains in the distance when we got to the very small town named First View! I enjoy the ocean now, but it is the mountains that hold the strongest pull on my heartstrings. There are so many wonderful blessings we have been blessed given to experience in this wonderful world.

        • shirleyhs on September 1, 2015 at 9:12 pm

          Ruby, welcome to the comments section of this blog, and thank you for bringing to mind the mountains as the other kind of majesty. I’ve chosen to live in a valley and gaze at the mountains, so I guess I would agree that they tug my heartstrings most.

          However, the ocean, had I had more opportunity to explore it in my youth, might well have been the place of my dreams.

          We are blessed indeed to have the best of both worlds and loved ones to enjoy both the mountains and the ocean with us. So grateful to God.

  6. Mary Ellen Harwood on August 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Shirley,
    That picture looks like Mt. Gretna lake. The favorite swimming place of our childhood where I learned to swim. We were only able to go there once or twice in a summer and then always had to leave by three to get back to milk the cows.

    • shirleyhs on August 27, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Oh Mary Ellen, you would understand completely! Those few days, those few precious hours between milkings. Also, we were captive to the weather. If the sun was out, we had field work to do. So we often ended up going to Hershey Park, the Philadephia zoo, or the closest beach on a cloudy day with the threat of rain.

      Yes, I think this was Mt. Gretna. The one and only time I got to go there. Thanks for the id.

  7. Sherrey Meyer on August 27, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    My first glimpse of the beach came at age 12 when my dad found his siblings living in Florida. After that we made several trips to see them and each trip held some days at the beach. I now live near what we in Oregon call the coast, and we make frequent trips westward to the coast (only 90 mins. or so) whenever we can tear ourselves away from home. Funny how many different names we’ve given our coastlines in this country, isn’t it? Love this memory, Shirley.

    • shirleyhs on August 27, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      You are the empress of two coasts, Sherrey. Thanks for reminding me of the “other” one, which we have visited several times in several ways. Stuart walked the coast for the first time this year in Seaside and Astoria. So different from here on the Jersey Shore, yet equally beautiful.

  8. Joan Z. Rough on August 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I grew up on Long Island, NY, and spent almost every summer day as a kid swimming or water skiing in Long Island Sound. I am hugely connected to salt water and love nothing more than a vacation at the beach. I’m going for a week in September and can’t wait. Hearing the roar of the waves relaxes me completely.

    • shirleyhs on August 28, 2015 at 9:39 am

      What a wonderful place to grow up, Joan, with the ocean rocking you to sleep. That rhythm stays with you all your life.

      We, of course, got salt water taffy, and Owen made sure it was bathed in salt water before he ate his two pieces. πŸ™‚

  9. JOYCE MECK on August 28, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I grew up much like you with cows. My parents Sunday School class would go to either Sandy Cove or Redpoint for the day. Kids of our age who were non swimmers and jumped waves along with floating around in TRACTOR tire tubes.

  10. shirleyhs on August 28, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Joyce, thank you so much for that name — Sandy Cove — I had forgotten. The one pool we went to was Mt. Gretna, and the beach was Sandy Cove, perhaps one hour’s drive from from home? I remember very shallow water and dark, dirty sand. But to me, it was the very ocean itself. And we used tractor tire tubes also!

    Thanks, as always, for your comment.

  11. Marylin Warner on August 28, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I connected to this on such an emotional level, Shirley. We went to the beach only a handful of times when I was growing up, but every summer we went to the Lake of the Ozarks. I learned to water ski–and stay up on the skis–when, as the boat was pulling me up for my first run, my cousin and I (we were both being towed to ski at the same time–saw the rippling move of a snake in the water, coming toward us. My older cousin was driving the boat; he saw it and yelled, “Water moccasin! Hold on and stay upright!” He took off, and we flew behind him!

  12. Laurie Buchanan on September 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Shirley β€” In looking at your blog postS (capital S – plural), I’ve been missing out. I have no idea why I’ve not received email notifications. Not having received any, I thought you were on a summer hiatus. I have just RE-subscribed so I don’t miss another of your wonderful posts!

    • shirleyhs on September 1, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks, Laurie. You’re not alone. I had a list of subscribers that didn’t make it through the transition to a new WordPress Theme. Thanks for resubscribing. The joys of technology. I’m trying to revive the old list, but nothing seems to be happening quickly here right now.

      Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue. . . .

  13. gloria horst rosenberger on September 1, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Oh Shirley, your summer event looks like what I think we called Mount Gretna where the Adirondack chairs were in a circle around the circle shaped pool. My mom and sisters and I would go there. We saved Red Point for the one day my Dad could join us. Later we would go to ocean City, New Jersey for a day, getting up at 5 a.m.to be on the road by 6. Almost every year since then I have made the trek to the shore with family or friends. This year we are getting there late: in mid September. Enjoy those sandy beach days with grandchildren. How precious is that!

    • shirleyhs on September 1, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      Gloria, that picture definitely was taken at Mt. Gretna (as confirmed by Mary Ellen above). I think we went there twice.

      Like you, we went to the closest beach areas a few other times.

      I went to Ocean City with my cousin Mary Ann at least twice after we could drive. That was wildly exciting for all of us. This year, Mary Ann invited me to join her at Bethany Beach, Delaware, at the condo her family owns. Close to Rehobeth. Tina G. and her sister-in-law Chris were there also. Lots of memories old and new.

      Our family wants to make Beach Week a tradition, and I’m all for it. Still have a lot of sobriety to make up for. πŸ™‚

  14. Kathleen Pooler on September 2, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Shirley, I was beach-deprived too during my childhood. However, I have more than made up for it throughout my adult years. Cape Cod and Maine are my go-too places now but any place near the ocean is fine with me. Your words about sharing your dreams with your grandkids resonate,too. Indeed, this is a wonderful time in our lives!

    • shirleyhs on September 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      Here we go, Kathy, line dancing into old age, making up for the sobriety of our youths, and holding the hands of our grandchildren.

      Thanks for adding your voice here. Love the way blogging allows us to stay in touch.

      Blessings on your day. Life’s a beach. πŸ™‚

  15. Richard Gilbert on September 2, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    What great old and new photos! I happen to be writing about a 1954 photo too, of my Dad’s prized bull! I seem to recall Vicky’s story in Blush; how neat that part of your bond included the beach.

    Your grandkids are really growing!

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Richard, a grandma who blogs will find a way to include the children. πŸ™‚

      Yes, Vicky made everything more vivid. Her arrival was like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when black and white become technicolor.

      I love that 1954 photo of the great bull. In fact, I’m going to post your post on the FB page Carol Bodensteiner and I started called I Grew Up Country.

  16. Elaine Mansfield on September 3, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Sweet, sweet, and sweet. I love the photo and thinking of you at the beach. I loved spending time on wild CA beaches in July and now I’m landlocked again but with my beautiful and huge Seneca Lake just three miles away. Have a wonderful week in all ways. Grandchildren are such a benefit, but I’m watching for other benefits. Isn’t that poem the best? Purple looks good with my white hair.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      We returned last week, but I spent time this afternoon watching the videos we made of the grandchildren splashing in the tidal pool. Glad you got to catch some CA waves. Isn’t it fascinating how different the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are?

      You have the perfect landscape it seems to me — both water and woods.

      Wear lots of purple and a jaunty red hat as you stroll with your precious ones in the newly nippy night and morning air.

  17. Lucinda J on July 22, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I love the ocean, too. And I love that picture of you and your grandchildren. They look like you! And BTW, I am reading Blush right now and really enjoying it.:) It’s good.

    • Lucinda J on July 22, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      I suppose Blush is so interesting to me because it gives me a glimpse of the “old” Mennonites, back before the we evolved to our present drastic differences between “conservative” and “liberal.” I know there were differences between Mennonites in your younger days as well, but it seems to me the gap wasn’t nearly as wide. And I enjoy your writing very much.

      • Shirley Showalter on July 27, 2016 at 5:51 pm

        Lucinda, sorry it has taken me so long to respond. Thank you so much for your kind words about BLUSH. You are right that differences among Mennonites seem much wider now than they did in the 1950’s. However, before we get too sentimental about the good ole days, we must remember the human tendency (perfected to a fine degree by Mennonites) to make big distinctions from fine points. πŸ™‚

        I have great respect for conservative Mennonites and Amish. There are saints and sinners in every group. And in each of us.

        Our family, all eight of us, will be enjoying Myrtle Beach together in a few weeks. I hope you get some beach time too. Congratulations again on having your proposal accepted. Can’t wait to read your book.

  18. June on July 22, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I grew up in Victoria British Columbia, so everyday could be a beach day, and ocean day. My Parents didn’t go to church, however, our Sunday outing would be to go down to the sea wall. There was one part of the sea wall that you could either stay up top, or go down, and walk along the beach. I loved the escape I experienced as a young girl, going off on an adventure, without my parents, but looking forward to meeting up with them again. We would end our day with a visit to Beacon Hill Park, and an ice cream.

    • Shirley Showalter on July 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm

      June, that kind of childhood sounds so idyllic! I’ve been to Victoria, and I found it incredibly beautiful. Have you created adult traditions for yourself that bring back that childhood memory?

      I seldom got to the beach, but I did get the ice cream part! My dairy farmer father would splurge on ice cream almost any time we begged for it. πŸ™‚

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