The walk took about 13 minutes but was always too long for my short legs. The house I lived in on Long Beach Island which turned into my grandparents’, cousins’ and aunt’s house in the summer was about a 10 minute walk to the beach. But we were on 6th street and the pavilion and lifeguards were on 5th street so we zig-zagged our way there every day of every summer.
It’s 11am and all four cousins have our bathing suits on and are helping each other lather on sunscreen, especially me, the youngest and palest. My grandfather sometimes even put zinc oxide on my nose and under my eyes like a mini lifeguard. Once all us kids piled our beach supplies in our arms, it was off to the beach.
You wouldn’t have to squint your eyes from the sun until you made it to the edge of the half-grass-have-sand yard and onto the sidewalk where trees couldn’t stretch any longer to be your shield.
It was a right onto the sidewalk.
From there we had two choices for our path. Either forward two blocks and a right and one block after the left or forward one block and a right and two blocks after the left. I think we normally picked the path that made it feel shorter, where you take the long two blocks first to get it out of the way. Sometimes the younger two cousins went one way and the older two the other to see who could make it there first. A challenge makes the walk shorter.
Most of the houses along the way were the same ones that were there since the first time I took the walk. My aunt would tell us about Mrs. Potts (I may be misrecalling her name) who lived in the gray house with burgundy trim on the right of the first block and whose yard was alive with blue and purple hydrangeas. My mom thinks those flowers thrive from the salty air because hers never look as good. Then there was The Purple Lady whose house was across the street from Mrs. Potts. Her house was a pale purple, with deeper purple trim, a purple gazebo in her front yard, a decorative bicycle that was painted purple, and every kind of purple flower planted in the yard. She would later buy a purple Dodge Charger after her husband passed and the house on the corner of the left after two blocks would buy the purple gazebo and paint it white.
The shortest block, due south, sometimes came with a surprise, but normally on the walk back at around 5pm when one of the few yards with grass would turn its sprinklers on. This was our chance to get some of the sand off our feet, but we would get a second chance with the hose outside the house before we went inside.
Depending on whether you walked the two blocks first or one block, this was either the best part of the walk or the worst. Maybe it was because I didn’t drink as much water as I should have or that everyone’s legs were longer than mine so I would need a little more pep in my step, but those four blocks often came with a cramp in my side by the time we arrived. If you closed your eyes at the end, you would know when you were getting close from the salty smell and cool breeze off the ocean. We always hoped we wouldn’t hear the water from too far away since that meant rough waters.
The four cousins would go on to make that trip four times a day: once in the morning to get to the beach, once to get back to the house to make and eat lunch, then back to the beach, and finally back to the house for showers and dinner. My grandmother’s cooking has always been fabulous, but food is always better after a day at the beach.
Occasionally a thunder storm would creep up on you and lightning would arrive before you realize you need to leave the beach. These were not only uncomfortable walks back to the house because of the rain but the lingering thought that you’re carrying a metal beach chair and are a slow moving target.
The volume of these walks would dwindle over the years as my sister and I started working at Ben & Jerry’s and my cousins would visit more seldomly from the Middle East. The walks got cut altogether once hurricane Sandy came and flooded the little ranch house.
Now when I drive past, almost all of the houses have been torn down and newer, bigger, less friendly houses have taken their place. Now that I think of it, the Purple Lady’s house hasn’t changed much at all.