My mom worked nights as a waitress. If you're good at it, you can make enough money to support a family and pay a mortgage. Mom was very good at it. Rough work, though, and it meant being away from home five nights a week. We were very lucky, after my mom and dad split, Dad would still be at the house when Mom worked. The split shift parenting they did was kind of unusual. We spent a lot more time with Dad as kids.
So Mom would do her best to make things fun every once in a while, because it really bothered her to be away from home so much. During the summer, this meant getting a membership to Newbridge pool and going down there once or twice a week. At least one of those trips would be in the evening, and we'd battle the green flies and enjoy the pool in the evening dusk.
On July 3rd, though, Mom came home from work and woke us up around 4am to drive down to Jones Beach. We drove in the night, windows in the car wide open and the air coming in was filled with the scent of the ocean. She talked on this drive of when she was a kid newly recovered from Polio.
Papa would drop Mom off at the Field 9 beach house with nothing but her roller skates and a towel. She'd be in her shorts, t and swimsuit, and she'd walk in the sand all the way to Field 4, which was about a mile. Then she'd spend several hours roller skating, and walk in the sand back to Field 9, where Papa would pick her up after finishing his shift at Grumman.
She was telling us about this, but my older brother and I were questioning her. There was a beach house at Field 9? Dad's favorite beach was Field 6, since it had the shortest walk to the ocean. We told her there was no 9, and she was disbelieving. For years, if she took us to the beach, we would arrive at the water tower and go around the traffic circle to arrive at Field 4's huge parking lot. (In contrast, those summer Sundays at the beach with Dad meant arriving at Field 6 before 7am, lest it be closed) So, Mom hadn't been out that way in years.
It's now about 5:30am and the day's first light is beginning to appear. We drive down to where this beach once was and pull over on the side of Ocean Parkway. Now, there are only dunes and a narrow beach where Mom tells us there was yet another one of Robert Moses' art deco marvels, with a saltwater pool, changing rooms and a concession. We get back in the car and backtrack to Field 6's parking lot.
Daylight begins to reveal what Mom had brought us down to the beach to see. New York Harbor was hosting Operation Sail, with many tall ships from around the world arriving to celebrate the American Bicentennial. Her thought was that with us being less than 30 miles from NYC, we'd get to see some of the tall ships without the crowds of Manhattan.
She was right. For the next couple of hours, we sat on the beach and watched about 8 or 9 ships on their way to this huge event. We sat and talked and talked and watched the ships, with Mom reminiscing about the beach when she was a kid. It was a once in a lifetime event, and she had a unique way of bringing it to life for us.
Of course, hunger pangs hit all four of us at some point. When there were no longer any ships to view, we headed back to Merrick for a big breakfast at Marybill diner. This was a rare treat and oh so good. That morning was a gift of seeing the ships, as well as learning more about what Mom had gone through as a child with Polio. The breakfast afterwards was just icing on the cake.
Looking back through the eyes of an adult, I am happy for the experience. The world has changed a lot in the 31 years since that day. An event of that magnitude will never happen again, and I'm sad for my boys that I can't take them to see the tall ships. I just hope that something we do today will be looked on as fondly thirty years later.