By Andrea K. Hammer
As we drive around the Circle in Atlantic City, heading up Ventnor Avenue, I roll down the window and fill my lungs with sea air. The seagulls glide overhead, with their wings outstretched in power and grace.
I spent my summers as a girl at my grandparents’ house in Ventnor, N.J. Most children went to camp, but I was at the beach. The days were filled with easy pleasures: hunting for seashells, eating banana fudge ice cream and riding the waves like a fish. Then, the sun dried cascading water droplets during a delicious nap. Slipping into that half state of semi-consciousness, I could still hear the children squealing with delight as they popped the seaweed by the edge of the ocean.
Even though we were one of the first to stake out a spot on the beach early in the morning, we were also the last to pack up our gear. We would watch in amazement, as the beach brigade started dragging paraphernalia home in the late afternoon: umbrellas, towels, toys, lunch bags, suntan lotion and lounge chairs all had to be hauled back over the sand. Gradually, the families passed barefoot back down the ramp, disappearing out of view.
Now, we could breathe even more deeply–the beach was all ours.
Reading Books on the Beach and Watching Nature’s Artistry
My mom and I would read books, walk, talk about everything under the sun and watch the sky turn from blue to purple and pink. We would cling to every color until the last brushstroke disappeared. Forced to admit that the day was truly over–after what seemed to be only a couple of hours–we headed home for the rejuvenating after-the-beach shower and thought about ordering the puffy onion rings at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.
Then, we had our nightly walk to the end of the boardwalk, giggling as the regulars waved and told us we looked like sisters. An ice cream cone was the reward for our exercise and then a rest on the bench to take a turn as the observers.
So the days flowed timelessly into each other until my father returned on the weekends after finishing his work week in Philadelphia. He showed up with bags of goodies: fresh cheese and pastries, which he had to sample himself on the road.
After unloading the packages, he and my mother would walk–hand in hand–up to the boardwalk, standing quietly at the rail, entranced by the rolling waves. The other regulars would greet them, and my father traded his new stock of jokes with the old-timers. He had the gift of knowing how to make people laugh.
Neighbors called my grandmother the “sweet lady,” as they passed her sitting on the same boardwalk bench at the end of our block. Constantly rubbing a cloth between her fingers or jingling keys, even she seemed to find calm by the massive ocean.
The Ocean Is My Prayer
Now, on trips back to my spiritual home, I can still feel the spirits of my loved ones nearby. I am at peace here, with the sound of crashing waves and never-ending skylines. The view of a lone man, standing in an at-ease position, down by the water’s edge always restores proper perspective. Listening to the rhythm of the lapping water, I rediscover my spirituality.
The ocean is my prayer.
My partner and I play: flying kites and riding bikes after he feeds the seagulls. Even an overnighter magically transforms us.
Our needs and pleasures are simple here. We walk along the beach and look at the bounty and artistry of Nature: shells with ridges, colorful glass with smooth edges, stones that we tuck in our pockets for rediscovery in our other life.
On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, characters in all flavors drift by in a continual parade. Rolling chair drivers ask if I want a free ride. A man, completely painted in silver, stands on top of a milk crate, blowing slow-motion kisses to children dropping dollar bills in his bucket. Tattooed women proudly display their bellies, with some protruding over their bikinis; others are flat as washboards.
Here, in this land of jingling coins and long-shot millionaire dreams, any wish seems possible–at least for the day. So I head back to New Jersey whenever possible, still smelling my grandmother’s pan-fried cinnamon buns and my father’s wafting English Leather aftershave mingling with the salty sea air.
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