Saturday, July 2, 2016

ECHOES OF DISTANT SUMMERS




 Dwelling continuously in the past is for idle dreamers. Occasionally visiting the past can be nourishment for a hungry soul.

 

There are times when I can close my eyes and make the distance of years melt away......

..... and suddenly I'm on the beach again, young and exuberant, immersed in the drowsy haze of a summer afternoon where the silver glare of sky and water mingle as one, where the soft sand burns my bare feet, and the salty scent of the ocean intoxicates my senses. The soothing, eternal roar of the waves seem to echo like the song of a shell pressed against my ear.

 I cherish those summers of distant memories, because now - - in the present purgatory of a different time and place, in the subtle shadows of my rapidly dwindling existence - - I fully appreciate their value. 

Memories often tend to assume halcyon proportions and our distant pasts sometimes seem better than they really were. Careful scrutiny of my past, however, confirms the fact that it did indeed harbor the best times of my life.

There is a fierce pang of sadness wedged in the heart of my memories, because what I miss most is the innocence and the optimism - - two precious things that I will never have again.




I was fortunate enough to have divided my youthful summers between the west coast and the east coast. 

I lived in Southern California which, in my biased opinion, was the greatest place on earth. I also spent summers on the east coast, the Jersey shore, where most of my relatives were. I was particularly partial to the Pacific Ocean, because it was my territory - - but the Atlantic had its own mesmeric powers. The Pacific - always blue, placid, inviting. The Atlantic - greenish gray, remote, moody.

 West Coast

In California, in Orange County, we lived less than five miles from the beach and it was an integral part of my life. I was well-acquainted with all the beach communities up the coast:
Laguna, Newport, Huntington, Bolsa Chica, Sunset, Seal Beach. 

Huntington Beach was the closest. Sometimes I'd ride my bike there. Occasionally I'd hitch a ride. All the kids hitched on Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.....long ago when things seemed safe.


 The Huntington Beach Pier

Long, hot summer days languishing in the sand at Huntington, absorbing the perpetual sunshine. Eating corn dogs & strips (fried tortilla strips with a mild hot sauce). Drinking Cactus Coolers (an orange-pineapple soft drink that I think still exists). Always swimming. Sometimes surfing. Enduring sunburns and jellyfish stings. 




Midnight bonfires, moonlit walks on the beach when the Grunion were running. Haunting the deserted pier at Seal Beach after midnight. Sailing with friends at Newport Beach on languid, carefree afternoons. Visiting Balboa Island and Catalina Island.

Later, when I had wheels, I'd drive to the beach or go with friends. Day or night, it was my most sacred refuge. 


Sudden flashback:
Driving with my best friend Mike in his red convertible Mustang along Pacific Coast Highway at sunset on the 4th of July. Stereo blaring, the evening alive with magic. Dazzling explosions of fireworks igniting every mile of the shore. The air warm and salty, heavy with the pungent sulfuric smell of  smoke.

I was best man at Mike's wedding. Marriage inevitably has a way of severing friendships and expunging the exuberance of youth. We lost contact long ago. The carefree days linger like taunting ghosts at the edge of our memories....




The Jersey Shore

East Coast

The east coast was always a blessed escape from unrelenting family problems and my father's insane violence.

I loved the colorful, comforting chaos of being alone in New York City: walking barefooted in Central Park, discovering museums, visiting Lincoln Center. Getting drunk in a sleazy Staten Island bar with my cousin and her husband. Drinking was a new novelty to me then.

Horseback riding with my cousin Nancy on early August evenings in the balmy New Jersey countryside. Boating along the Jersey coast and into New York Harbor (several of my relatives had boats). Watching the moon rise from the water in a sultry surrealistic haze. Long walks on the beach at Sandy Hook. Exploring the boardwalks at Asbury Park and Seaside Heights.


Asbury Park, New Jersey
 

Our once-large family has dwindled drastically. The relatives are all dead, except for my cousins. Friends have vanished. And lovers. All those whom I truly cherished only remain in faded ghost memories, where distant voices still echo with warmth and laughter......

....and those golden summers linger tenderly in the recesses of my mind:  carefree times when the invincibility of youth deceived us into believing that life is eternal - -

- - where distant memories echo like the taunting pulse of a delicate whisper in a seashell pressed to my ear.

Jon V.

Note:
I posted this on my blog last year and thought it is worth a second look. This is a newly revised version.







16 comments:

  1. Jon,

    I've only spent a brief time on the west coast, so I have no real good observations about life there. I grew up and have lived inland from the Atlantic Coast all my life, always 2 hours or less from the shore, first Jersey, now Delaware. Of course, our shore was south, Atlantic City, Wildwoods, Ocean City, but one Atlantic beach town seems to be a copy of any other. The other year I spent considerable time in Seaside Heights, but not relaxing on the beach. I was with a group trying to help those devastated by Hurricane Sandy. There was a lot left there then.

    Larry

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  2. The things is, when we think back like that, we always have our memories to wrap ourselves in. I love my life now, but sometimes can't help taking a stroll down memories lane. And you see why I too, like you love the beach. There is something very healing, recharging and rejuvenating about it. Its why I always seem to go alot. I'm packing again in a few days. Lovely post, it gave me very vivid images.

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  3. you as the sunshine; I like that. my great aunt had a beach house in sea isle city in the 60s; she would rent it out to the relatives for 1 week at a time. my parents and younger sister and I used to go "downdashore" every year and stay and play. carefree days back then.

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  4. If you can feel and think these things you still have much to look forward to.

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  5. Beautiful post, Jon. Whenever I hear wind in treetops, I think of the sea. It's as if the ocean has a voice that visits inland.

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  6. Cactus Cooler! I hadn't thought of that until you mentioned it. My dad used to bring it home and I remember drinking it and eating cheese puffs. I don't remember the brand but they came in a cereal-type box and were way better than Cheetos.
    I lived more inland than you so our nearest beach was Santa Monica. Spent some time at Redondo after my girlfriend moved there. I was more of a pool girl where bathrooms were as close as my apartment and I didn't get sand in unspeakable places.

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  7. (to borrow a phrase I recently heard) 'Just add water' and summer comes alive. The East Coast was my territory, the mighty Atlantic still echoes in my ear too. Though all my mother's side of the family lived in California offering the Pacific up as well. So today as i was reading this post, you took me there once again, to both places. Uplifting me to a higher plane. Of course if I had the airfare I'd be either place in a heartbeat. Thanks for the memories. they enveloped me in a big hug.

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  8. I love your line, "... visiting the past can be nourishment for a hungry soul." You're right. I never paused to consider my own days of wine and roses would come to an end.

    Tho' I wasn't fortunate to personally identify with either coast, your words make them come alive in cinematic splendor. Great read!

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  9. Jon, my life is stuck in 1st gear and always has lived in the past. Young. Firm. Smooth flesh and sound body. Of course I have a parallel past of cruelty and abuse, but either memory causes me pain. I'd give anything to jettison both pasts. One tells me I was unloved and unworthy. The other one tells me I'm NOW unworthy: slack skin, layers of age, an invisible woman.

    At night when I cannot sleep (insomnia) I fantasize returning to my youthful body - one I could be proud of. (I didn't appreciate it at the time) Where friends are concerned, my dear friend, I've always said "Most 'friends' are merely acquaintances due to circumstances. If there is ONE true friend, that is all you need."

    It's a blessing to have ONE. A heartache to have none. But acquaintances serve no purpose for the soul.

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  10. My memories are filled with tall prairie grass, sand dunes, killdeer, skinks, mallards, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, cottonwood trees, and water lapping lazily against the lake shore weeds. That was my solitary sanctuary. It amazes me how youth can remain optimistic even when surrounded by sadness and/or fear. I have clung fiercely to mine. Your memories are precious, Jon. Both coasts. :)

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  11. Your writing is beautiful, Jon. Far beyond text, your words are the secret shadows and rich colours of an exquisite painting.

    I'm a forest person for the most part, but I misspent a fair portion of my youth at Wreck Beach, near Vancouver, and know the taste of salt and the caress of warm sand.

    I was set to comment on your Self-portrait post, but my inner recluse grabbed hold of me and stopped me cold. I then considered a post on my blog for you, with a picture I'll explain forthwith, but the loner in me suggested otherwise once again.

    I am struck by your self-portrait. It is quietly thunderous with feeling, pain and sadness for the most part. Looking at it, I know how important it is to you.

    A damaged father hurts his son. The boy's dreams just... go. His smiles abandon his eyes. His tears fall inward, and in a black pool beneath his heart, nourish the seeds of self-hatred. A brave battle of hurt denied, but always, the inexplicable emptiness. His father so powerful, so esteemed, so adored; learning to hate his father is an awfully hard learning.

    Is it really easier to hate himself?

    There comes to be a cherished picture, because everything lost, and the loss itself, can be found there. It glitters in yours, your golden hair, your mask of strength, your searing-crying, calling-banishing eyes.

    I have a picture like that, one of my earliest self-portraits. I was going to post it for you, hoping you might feel just a little less alone when the hurt is at you.

    Anyway, it's good to read that you have a place to gaze upon fond recollections, like warm sand between your toes.

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  12. A sad post............memories eh?

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  14. Beautifully written and soul stirring post, Jon. Memories are precious since they're ours, and no one can ever take them from us.

    I had a previous typo.

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  15. Until two years ago the only ocean I saw was the Atlantic Ocean. You are absolutely correct in your description of the differences in the oceans. "The Pacific - always blue, placid, inviting. The Atlantic - greenish gray, remote, moody." Upon seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time (from the Santa Monica Pier), I was duly impressed. Touching base with the Pacific Ocean is a must stop now for our annual visit to California.
    Another enjoyable post Jon. Thanks!
    Ron

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  16. I'm paying a visit from Myra's blog. Your description of the beaches make me long for a visit. Living in land-locked Kansas is such a long way from beaches of any kind. I fell in love with the beach years ago while traveling with my late husband! He stayed in the shade of an umbrella while I languished in the sun. I am a sun worshiper from the 60's. Didn't use sun screen then and I still don't! Horrors, I know! Would love to visit the Jersey shore after your descriptions. And isn't it the truth how marriages can change such good friendships!!

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