Generations

My grandmother, Helen Dow

It is a beautiful beach day.  I rise early, pack a lunch and drive to the coast, where I settle in my beach chair, wiggle my toes in the warming sand, and sip iced coffee.  I watch as families populated the beach, carefully choosing the best spot for their blankets, unpacking kites and plastic pails, handing out drinks and snacks, just as I had done when  my children were little. 

Helen Dow

My mother, Connie Dow (Madison) sometime in the late 40s

Me (Garrie) with my firstborn, Abby-1983

As I sit in my faded canvas chair, I marvel at how the beach changes day-to-day, and yet  in many ways, it remains the same. The beach has been a favorite spot for my family for four generations, and I suspect, will be continue to be long after my bones have returned to the sea.  My grandmother sat in this very sand, clad in a heavy swim costume, her hair caught up in a crisp cotton cap to protect it from the salt air.  My mother, barely a teenager, mugged for a camera on this beach in her two piece swimsuit, and a generation later, wearing my first bikini, I rode waves with my father in the same briny sea.  And it was only yesterday- or was it years ago – that I dressed my children in fluorescent swimwear so I could see them as they ran to the rocks on Straws Point to search for star fish and periwinkles.  

Indeed, the houses that line the beach have changed over the years.  When my mother was young, only a few tiny cottages dotted the horizon, but by the time I was a teenager, the houses were bigger and closer together.  When we vacationed at the beach I would wade in the water and look at those houses in awe. They were summer homes- rambling white buildings that housed extended families who slammed in and out the screen doors and set up volley ball nets during low tide.  I dreamed of living in such a home- to be able to run from the foaming sea to a hot shower without shivering under a wet towel for the third of a mile walk to my grandparent’s cottage on Cable Road. 

Most of the summer homes are gone now, and in their places are large year-round structures of concrete and stone, with tinted picture windows and outdoor showers with hot water to keep their hardwood floors from getting sandy.   And instead of walking a third of a mile to my grandparents’ cottage, I drive forty miles to spend a day listening to the song that is sung to me only by the sea.

Older sister Martha-Jean, our dad, Charles Madison, and me

And yet, with all the changes, so much is the same.  Children are warned to not go in past their waists.  Fathers lift their toddlers high in the air and quickly dunk them in an exciting game of tag with the waves.  Mothers wipe sand and sunscreen from their children’s eyes, and soothe them with cookies and a sip of lemonade.  Seagulls cry to each other while swooping from the skies in search of forgotten sandwiches and chips. 

It is the same gray sand that burns the soles of my feet at noon, and cools when the sun begins to sink below the trees to the west.  It is the same barnacled rocks that scrape the toes and knees of those who hover too close to their edges.  It is the same cold Atlantic water where my grandmother waded. The same frothing breakers that crashed over my mother as she floated parallel to the shore.  The same freezing surf that lifts me and rushes me headlong to the shore until my lungs burn for air.  It is the same in and out, sometimes green, sometimes blue, crash and ebb.

Gabe. Okay, this is really at Venice Beach, but it’s still the seaside

A couple of hours after I arrive at the beach, I heard a familiar voice from behind me and turn to see my son, Gabe, slipping off his sneakers.  Minutes later, we are side by side in the water.  I watch his lanky frame disappear in the churning froth, only to reappear several yards away.  He rides waves like his mother.  Like his grandfather.  He loves the beach like his grandmother and great-grandmother. And although he is a different man on a different day, from a different generation, he is much the same as they were. I feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and I can’t help but think they are smiling down on him.

My mother and grandmother. The young woman in the back ground with her hair up and back to the camera is me. I was young. Once.

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