It’s been more than 40 years since I stepped foot on the Asbury Park boardwalk in summer, and an awful lot has happened in the interim. My Uncle Tom was a newlywed then, and had recently bought the house on Grasmere Avenue. Now we’re in New Jersey to celebrate the wedding of his youngest at the chapel out on the grassy point of Sandy Hook, from which, had I brought my binoculars, I could see all the way across the ocean to the Long Island beaches where I spent my childhood summers.
So close I can almost touch it.
The beach will always remind me of my father — his eyes like the sea, the sand like his hair, his mind on the waves, always.
My mother misses his presence at the wedding, I can tell. We all do. But it’s tough to mourn the dead when there’s so much evidence of life here on the shoreline: Pregnant women, new babies, young love, a forever promise, a full dance floor and the tide rolling out and then in, a spectacular sunset breaking through low clouds to paint the sky electric.
No one who was there will ever forget.
My daughter had never seen the beaches of New Jersey. She’d never been the youngest cousin at a wedding before, never enjoyed all that entails. In a couple days she will get on an airplane by herself for the first time in her life, landing in a new city to take the first tentative steps into her own future.
These days there’s a pinball museum on the boardwalk at Asbury Park. It was a lot less crowded the last time I was here, in the winter, with my dad. It’s 10 bucks for 60 minutes, long enough for me to get high scores on two machines and play the old mechanical baseball table that also reminds me of my father, ever present, like the soft roar of the ocean.
On the boardwalk, when I was small, the ocean seemed so very far away across that vast expanse of sand. It looks a lot closer now, like I can reach out and touch it.
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