The mystery ship.

This is quite possibly, my favorite post I ever wrote, or it’s in my Top Five anyway. Enjoy! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Lucky Otters Haven

ssjameslongstreet4

Credit: Unknown photographer.  This haunting photo is very similar the way the old battleship appeared to me as a child.

I have a vivid memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny little girl of seven and eight years old happily playing and exploring on the the tidal flats of  East Brewster, along Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where my parents had rented a vacation beach cottage for two weeks during two consecutive summers in the late 1960s.

The sandbars and  network of warm tidal pools and rivulets left behind by the retreating tide stretched far, far into the distance–so far that the deeper water where the sand was never exposed was only a thin royal blue line against the horizon and sometimes was not visible at all  (I read recently that the Brewster tidal flats actually can extend up to two miles at low tide).

I played out…

View original post 1,285 more words

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2 weird dreams I had as a kid.

An oldie but goodie.

Lucky Otters Haven

steel_wool 

I was a weird, sketchy kid who had weird dreams. When I was about 5 I had a dream about something called a “clout” that looked like an oversized steel wool pad. It was sitting on the small rug in front of my bed and I was too scared to put my feet on the floor because that clout thing was evil. It just sat there on the rug, in all its black malevolence, not moving, but I knew it was alive and meant to kill me.   I knew if I put my feet on the floor the clout would suck me down into the Hell-portal it must have come from.

When I was around  the same age, one morning I woke up doubled over with laughter.   My dad asked me why I was laughing, and I remember saying, “someone was throwing mud at my door.”  …

View original post 98 more words

The summer of the toads.

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When I was 10 years old, my parents sent me to summer camp in upstate New York for a month.   I was a weird kid who loved books, was by turns standoffish or overly-friendly, and tended to be bullied at school.   At first, I wasn’t too happy about being sent to an unfamiliar environment without the comforts of home, where I’d have to share a cabin with 7 or 8 other girls I’d never met and who probably wouldn’t like me anyway.   To be completely honest,  being sent away for an entire month felt like a rejection, though I didn’t dare tell my parents that.

But the camping experience wasn’t anywhere near as awful as I expected.  It had its good points and its bad.  The good:  the hikes in the woods, the lake, the campfires, arts and crafts, nature walks, an hour of free time at the end of every day before dinner, the letters and gifts from home.  The bad: almost all the mess hall food, getting up early every day, the bugs, the lack of privacy, the uncomfortable cheap plastic covered mattress on my bed, no TV,  and the endless rules.   As for friends, well, I wasn’t exactly Miss Popularity, but I developed close friendships with a couple of other girls who were as quirky and weird as I was.

One of the girls was named Janie.   Janie was a year younger than me, but looked about three years younger.  She was like my adopted little sister.   She was angry a lot and used to yell at the other girls for silly reasons or for no reason at all, but she never yelled at me.  In fact, she seemed to look up to me, which was pretty flattering for someone who wasn’t used to ever being looked up to by anyone.   I think she was just homesick.  I liked her hair — it was short, thick, stick straight and a pretty bright golden brown — and at night before lights out I liked to comb it and play with it.  She wore thick glasses and liked to read as much as I did.  She was sort of a tomboy too, shunning girly things.  She was always dressed in striped polo tops and black or dark blue shorts and sneakers.  Like me, she loved nature and didn’t mind getting dirty.

The previous summer, a sort-of-friend (who only seemed to like me sometimes) who lived in a house behind the grove of thick spruce and maple trees that divided my backyard from hers,  had come over every day during one hot July week when we dug a huge hole in my backyard.   My mother wasn’t happy about the hole or the mess it caused, but she tried to ignore what we were doing and let us be kids, as long as we didn’t dig anywhere near the lawn.   We had chosen the far back of the yard, under some large old trees, where it was shady and no grass grew, for our hole.   We spend hours digging to see just how deep we could dig that hole.  Could we dig it as deep as the deep end of a swimming pool?  Maybe deeper than the earth’s mantle?  Could we dig to the center of the earth? Maybe even all the way to China?

Several times it rained and the hole filled with water, collapsing its walls and ruining much of our work, but once it dried up again, we’d be back out there digging.  After a few days, I’d brought out some plastic play plates, saucepans, and cups from a toy kitchen set, and we set up a sort of “kitchen” inside our hole, which was now large enough to hold both of us without our heads protruding above ground level (as long as we remained in a squatting position).    My friend brought over an old black umbrella that had belonged to her dad,  and we used that as a roof on our underground “house.”   We made makeshift “stairs” out of  large flat stones stuck in the mud walls on the side (the stairs didn’t really work but they looked nice).  At the end of every day, we’d both be filthy, sweaty, and covered head to toe with mud.   My mother, horrified at the sight of me, always sent me immediately to the bathroom to take a bath before I’d be allowed to go anywhere else in the house.

Finally,  when the hole was approximately the size and depth of a grave, my mother had enough and made us fill in the hole.   But by that point, the novelty had worn off and I was covered with mosquito bites from spending so much time wallowing in the stagnant water that was constantly filling the bottom of our hole.  So my friend and I didn’t mind spending a few hours shoveling the dirt back in the hole.  Away went the dollhouse plates and cups, and her dad’s big black umbrella.

digging

So getting dirty was never much of a problem for me, and when I met Janie at summer camp, we immediately hit it off.   At home and school, I tended to be too obedient and docile, not having the courage to speak up about anything, but for some reason summer camp was a different story.   Janie was freespirited and she hated following rules.   Although I was generally in the big-sister role, Janie’s willingness to break rules rubbed off on me and I found myself breaking rules too — and not really caring whether I got in trouble or not.   After all, what could the camp counselors do to us?

The way we broke the rules was to disappear during certain planned camp activities we disliked.  Every day there was a schedule of activities and except for an hour of free time at the end of the day,  our time wasn’t really our own.  Although I liked most of the camp activities, two I hated were Archery and Softball.   Janie didn’t like them either.  So those became the times we’d disappear and go off on our own to explore.

There was a stream that ran through our side of the camp (the boys had their own side) , and along its banks were wonderful areas with slippery clay-like gray mud.   We loved the look and feel and smell of this mud, which smelled sour-earthy and squished satisfyingly between our fingers, making squicky noises as it squeezed through.   We spent hours building little clay animals and people and whole towns out of this magical mud, then squishing them all into oblivion between our fingers again.  Overhead, the tall trees whispered softly in the warm summer breeze and dragonflies flitted about, their wings shimmering in the patchy sunlight that filtered through the green canopy overhead.

There were lots of small toads in the rocky stream and the clay-rich estuary-like area in which we spent so much time.  One day Janie climbed up from the banks of the stream,  cupping a minature toad in the palm of her small hand.  He was the cutest thing I ever saw, and she said she was going to keep him as a pet.    Of course, he escaped within minutes, but we kept finding more tiny toads.  They were everywhere!  I caught a larger toad, and soon toad-hunting became our obsession.   We imagined the toads had their own personalities and we gave them names.   They were our friends.

minitoad

We’d always forget the time, and arrive back at the cabin late, during the middle of Quiet Time.    The first couple of times that happened, our counselor punished us by telling us we had to read during Free Time.   But for us, that wasn’t a punishment at all, since we both loved reading and would have chosen to do it anyway.

So Janie and I continued to play in the stream during Archery or Softball, arriving back at the cabin late.   Finally, our counselor had enough and sent us to the Camp Director.   He threatened to expel us from camp early if we didnt start obeying the rules, so after that day, our frog-hunting adventures finally came to an end.

On the second to last day of camp, there was a special ceremony in which awards were given out to the campers.   I didn’t expect to receive anything, but I did receive an award for “Most Improved Swimmer.”    I was sure I’d be getting nothing else, but when the  ceremony was almost over, Janie and I were called up together to receive an award.   Smiling, the camp director handed us certificates.  I looked down at my certificate, and printed in pretty calligraphy was my name and under it, in smaller calligraphy, it said, “Best Frog Hunter.”   I looked over at Janie’s.  Hers said the same thing.  We gave each other knowing looks, and sheepishly sat down while the entire camp cheered and clapped for us.

That was a good summer.

The most disappointing Christmas gift I ever received.

Originally posted on January 21, 2016

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Christmas, 1966.   For months I’d been begging my parents to buy me the hottest new toy the commercials were telling me I just had to have: a walking, barking dog called Penny the Poodle.  Even if you’re old enough to remember this horrible toy, you may not, because it was quickly forgotten after the initial pre-Christmas hype.    I’m sure millions of small children spent that Christmas Day in tears of disappointment and frustration when they realized Penny the Poodle did NOT live up to the hype.

Here’s the commercial, which in retrospect, was pretty creepy, even for those days:

I remember unwrapping the large box with joyful anticipation, ripping off the green and red foil paper and bows to reveal the “Penny the Poodle” logo and the see-through window on the side of the box that revealed Penny’s Pepto-Bismol pink head.

Eagerly, I pried her out of the box with my small sweaty hands and tried to get her to work.  No batteries were necessary.  Penny was supposed to stand, walk, wag her tail, bark, and turn her head.   She was supposed to do everything a real dog does except poop and pee.

She did nothing.  Instead, she lay on her side on the floor, twitching as if she was having an epileptic seizure.    I tried to right her and squeezed the little remote control to get her to walk, wag her tail, do SOMETHING, but no dice.  She fell over again. This time she didn’t even twitch and convulse. I righted her again and manually tried to make her legs move. Her right leg fell off and lay there on the rug like a turkey drumstick covered in pink gravy. Penny was DOA.

I was heartbroken.  I opened the rest of my presents apathetically, because Penny the Poodle was the toy I had REALLY wanted for Christmas.   I cried on and off for most of the day.

My parents returned Penny to whatever store they had got her from and brought me home a replacement, this one powder blue instead of Pepto Bismol pink.   But this one wouldn’t work either.  Back to the store it went.  My parents refused to get me a third Penny, but by then, I’d given up and was happily playing with my Barbies and Wishnik troll dolls.

Penny the Poodle has curiosity value to toy collectors.   You can find a few on eBay, but none of them seem to be in working order, and probably never were.

 

The Furnace.

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

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In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in the distant past, but had turned a dirty tan with age. Rust stains snaked along it like varicose veins. Tumors of soot embedded themselves here and there and filled its crevices. The furnace was covered with guages and meters relating information about the furnace’s internal state my young mind couldn’t understand.

Snaking from the furnace were too many old iron pipes to count. Some were painted what had once been white but were now pock-marked with rust the color of old blood, others were unpainted and rusted over completely, and a few had been replaced with more modern steel pipes that looked out of place. All these pipes stuck out of the furnace like limbs, and converged along the ceiling, delivering their payload of heat to the house that was home to the inhabitants that that served it so lovingly.

The furnace chugged along in the cold months, clanking and blatting and hissing in its corner. Sometimes it leaked hot water all over the peeling painted cement floor around it. Other times it farted black smoke. There were a few times the entire basement was filled with its sooty miasma, and you couldn’t go down there. It was probably dangerous. I used to wonder sometimes if the old furnace might explode when it did that. I was assured it was safe but I never was sure.

Sometimes the furnace scared me when it did that. It also scared me when it made more hissing and clanking sounds than normal. I used to think it was angry that it had to live in the ugly damp unfinished basement and the only light it ever saw was the dim gray light that filtered through the filthy slit-like windows that dotted the white painted brick wall near the ceiling. Those windows were veiled with spider webs and caked with soot. Even my clean freak mother, who had a meltdown if she saw so much as a gum wrapper anywhere else in the house, never did anything with the basement windows. The basement was the one place she allowed to get dirty, except for the laundry room, which had been partially modernized with a carpet, fluorescent lights, and acoustic tile ceiling. The rest of the basement was lit–barely–with bare incandescent bulbs screwed in between the ceiling rafters and operated by metal pull-chains. An old rusted (but working) toilet sat in a tiny closet with only one bare bulb screwed overhead, and no sink.

I used a tiny room that at one time had been used for canning as my escape from the dysfunction that regularly went on up above. My bedroom was too close to the master bedroom, and offered little refuge from the oppressive tension and constant arguing. My basement room was outfitted with a metal desk with wood grain Formica where I did all my homework, and an old piece of salvaged carpet. The canning shelves housed my Barbie dolls and all their accoutrements. The cinder block walls were painted mint-green. A small painted shelf sat above the desk, and my favorite books made their home there. I loved my books. They opened parallel universes in which I could escape from my painful reality.

I’d stay in my little room for hours at a time, barely aware of anything except the world of my books and Barbies. Although I had a probably healthy caution of the furnace and didn’t like to get too close to it because it was so unpredictable, its clanking and hissing noises, when they weren’t too loud, were comforting to me. Its grumpiness and isolated loneliness reflected my own state of mind most of the time. I could relate to it.

Occasionally after one of its sooty temper tantrums, a serviceman would come and minister to it like a doctor on house-call, and then the furnace would be happy again. If a psychiatrist could have given the furnace a diagnosis, I bet it would be Borderline Personality Disorder.

I remember taking a picture of it shortly before my parents’ divorce. I kept that picture for years, but somewhere amidst my many moves, it was lost. I know the house is still standing and was updated at some point (my family never updated anything in that house), but I would be shocked if that old furnace is still there, and even more shocked if it still works. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to it. I hope it was treated well.

The mystery ship.

ssjameslongstreet4

Credit: Unknown photographer.  This haunting photo is very similar the way the old battleship appeared to me as a child.

I have a vivid memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny little girl of seven and eight years old happily playing and exploring on the the tidal flats of  East Brewster, along Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where my parents had rented a vacation beach cottage for two weeks during two consecutive summers in the late 1960s.

The sandbars and  network of warm tidal pools and rivulets left behind by the retreating tide stretched far, far into the distance–so far that the deeper water where the sand was never exposed was only a thin royal blue line against the horizon and sometimes was not visible at all  (I read recently that the Brewster tidal flats actually can extend up to two miles at low tide).

I played out on the flats for hours, collecting hermit crabs in my orange plastic bucket and then setting them free.  I marveled at how fast the incoming tide moved–so fast my friends and I used to try to race it in. I recalled sunsets seen from our screened in porch, painting the tidal pools pink and orange, and the smell of citronella and the sound of the bug zapper as the armies of mosquitoes dodged into it.

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Brewster tidal flats at sunset.

Way out on the horizon, so far away it appeared more like a mirage than a tangible thing, was the shadowy outline of a battleship.   I remember gazing out and wondering where it came from, why it never moved,  how far away it actually was, and even whether it was real at all.   It didn’t appear quite solid; I could see none of its details, and often it was shrouded in fog that was sometimes so thick I couldn’t see it at all.   Even on clear bright days, the ship seemed to shimmer in the sun like a mirage, or like the ghost of a ship that had foundered and sunk years earlier.

The ship seemed strangely alive though.  I was drawn to it.   I wanted to know its story.    I knew it had a story.  I remember asking my parents about it but they just said they had no idea.   The ship wasn’t important to them, but it was to me.   When we went to Provincetown one day, I looked out over the bay in the direction from which we had come to see if I could see my ship from a different perspective.  I was disappointed that I could not.   It was too far away and out of my line of vision.

My questions remained unanswered.   We had not taken any photos of that ship, so all I had was my memory of it.  After that second summer, we never returned to Cape Cod Bay.     Life went on, my parents divorced, we moved to the city,  school became more demanding, things like dating and making friends consumed my redirected adolescent attention.   Years and then decades passed by, and I never thought about the ship except as a random passing memory before turning my attention to more important things.

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Another ghostly image of the Target Ship in the far distance. (photographer unknown)

But about a month ago, that changed.  One day the memory again filtered through to my consciousness, as it sometimes does as a matter of course.   But so many decades had passed since those two distant summers that the memory itself has faded and I was no longer even sure it was an actual memory or perhaps just a dream or figment of childish imagination.

The Internet has made it possible to find the answers to obscure questions that in the recent past remained forever hidden in the darkness of the unknown.   So this last time I remembered the ship, I decided to Google it.   I didn’t expect to find anything.

So imagine my shock and delight when I typed in “abandoned battleship in Cape Cod Bay” and clicked on Images and saw THE SHIP almost exactly as I remembered it as a child standing out on those long-ago tidal flats gazing at the horizon.   There it was, right there on the screen of my laptop:  its ghostlike hulk like a mirage against the distant horizon, way out beyond the flats.  My jaw almost dropped to the floor.   Was my 50 year old question finally going to be answered?  Was my memory a real memory, and not just a dream?

My ship had a story, and she had a name:  The SS James Longstreet.  According to Google, she was a World War II battleship, constructed in 1942 by the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Company in Houston, Texas.  She measured 417 feet in length and 57 feet in breadth.  Her namesake, Major General James Longstreet, had been a hero of the Confederate Army and one of General Robert E. Lee’s top officers during the Civil War.   She was moored in the Cape Cod Bay off Eastham at the end of World War II and her remains can be found there today.

As per Wikipedia,

SS James Longstreet (Hull Number 112) was a Liberty ship [a cargo vessel built to carry supplies to Allied troops] built in the United States during World War II at a cost of $1,833,400. She was named after the Confederate general James Longstreet.

She was laid down on 3 December 1941, then launched on 2 April 1942. On 26 October 1943, she ran aground in a gale and was declared a total loss. Instead of being scrapped, she was acquired by the US Navy in June 1944 and used as a target ship for early air to surface guided missiles. Whilst under tow to and from the target areas, she once ran aground and on another occasion broke her anchor chain and drifted for ten days before being recovered.    She was then sunk and used for further experiments using missiles, before then being used for live ammunition target practice by Naval jets from nearby South Weymouth Naval Air Station and the Air Force from nearby Otis Air Force Base  until 1971. The ship is also referred to as the “target ship”.

The remains of James Longstreet lie approximately three and a half miles off  Eastham, Massachusetts in 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 m) of water. The site is off limits to divers.

And there it was.   It was much more than I expected.

targetship

Bombers drop missiles on the target ship at night (photographer unknown).  Going by the relatively intact look of the ship, I’m guessing this was taken earlier than the 1980s (most accounts say it was mostly disintegrated by 1982)

But that wasn’t all.  Another article, from The Cape Cod Times, said “The Target Ship” had become so badly rotted and damaged by rust and algae, and the constant bombardment by practice missiles, that in 1997 she finally broke apart and sank for good.  1997 was the last year she would have been visible to a child standing out on the tidal flats the way I had thirty years earlier.

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The “target ship” riddled with holes from years of attacks.

Of course I felt drawn to her.  Of course she haunted my dreams.   I related to her plight as an abuse survivor, as a child who constantly felt misunderstood and unappreciated by her own family, and unfairly maligned as a loser, a child who had opportunities ripped away, was used for emotional (and sometimes physical) target practice, and was finally emotionally abandoned by those who were supposed to always be there no matter what.   James Longstreet had been built, didn’t perform to standards, and was never given another chance to prove herself.  Instead, she was cruelly chained down where she couldn’t escape and used for target practice for half a century — only to be abandoned and left to rot and die where no one would ever see or remember her again.

Of course, intellectually, I knew the SS James Longstreet was just an object, a hunk of rusted iron manufactured by men for wartime.   She had no heart or brain or soul.  But in a sense, she was me, and for five decades she called out to me through my memory, yearning for her story to be told.

That’s the least SS James Longstreet deserves and so I have done this for her.

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View of the James Longstreet after she went under for good.

*****

Further reading:

Memories of the Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay 

 

HBO documentary about social class.

“Class Divide” is a fascinating documentary that takes a look at the sharp socioeconomic contrasts in the quickly gentrifying Chelsea neighborhood in New York City between the wealthy students who attend the very expensive Avenues private school and their like-aged peers who live in the projects directly across the street.   Their stories and those of their families and neighbors interweave and the real story emerges — that these kids are not all that different from each other in their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

 

 

2 weird dreams I had as a kid.

steel_wool 

I was a weird, sketchy kid who had weird dreams. When I was about 5 I had a dream about something called a “clout” that looked like an oversized steel wool pad. It was sitting on the small rug in front of my bed and I was too scared to put my feet on the floor because that clout thing was evil. It just sat there on the rug, in all its black malevolence, not moving, but I knew it was alive and meant to kill me.   I knew if I put my feet on the floor the clout would suck me down into the Hell-portal it must have come from.

When I was around  the same age, one morning I woke up doubled over with laughter.   My dad asked me why I was laughing, and I remember saying, “someone was throwing mud at my door.”   I pointed to the door of my room and globs of gooey mud were sliding down its painted surface. I couldn’t stop shrieking with mirth.   I kept pointing but he couldn’t see the mud and told me to stop making things up.  “Look!  Look! There! There!” I screamed in frustration, but I was still laughing.   Then I woke up for real and was almost afraid if I looked at the door, mud would be on it. I was really awake this time, so there wasn’t. Relieved, I went downstairs for my Cap’n Crunch and orange juice.

Surrounded by beauty.

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I went back to the beach this morning (I finally got up early), and the tide was the lowest I’ve seen it, and it was still going out. Sandbars stretched pretty far into what was covered over by water the day before yesterday, leaving bathwater-hot tidal pools filled with small tan fish (probably minnows), skeins of green-brown seaweed, and tiny hermit crabs. I put my things down on the dry part of the beach and waded out, deliberately stepping in the warm pools and feeling the soft silty sand along the way. Dragonflies flitted back and forth, probably looking for mosquitoes for brunch. The only annoying thing was the many biting sand-flies, which tried to eat up my legs (why didn’t the dragonflies go after those?) But as soon as I’d waded far enough where no more sand was exposed, the biting flies disappeared.

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I found a nice spot that wasn’t too mushy (some of the sand here is VERY soft, reminding me of quicksand, so I had to be mindful of that) and fairly free of seaweed. I settled into the slightly cooler water there, which only came up to my waist when I sat down in it.

At first there was no one else but me on the beach. I felt like I was the only person on earth. The sky was a bright blue dome, darkening to almost indigo toward its center, with white puffy cumulus clouds lining the edges against the horizon like lace trim. The water was clear and reflected the blue of the sky. I had waded so far out that I was surrounded on every side by barely moving but ever-changing water. I could tell the tide was still going out by the direction of the tiny ripples, and I kept having to move farther in to stay immersed. I looked back at where I’d laid my things on the beach and could barely see them anymore. I was very far out! I decided not to go any further because I didn’t want to lose sight of my things, even though it looked like the very shallow water went out quite a ways. I also didn’t want to be stuck any farther out if the tide suddenly came in.

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I laid down in the water and dug my toes into the wonderful fine sand. I put my hands behind my head and let my elbows rest in the sand, propping my head up so I could see. It was clouding up just a little, and they looked so close overhead I felt like I could reach out and touch them. I heard gulls overhead and way in the distance, I could hear the rumble of a motorboat. I stretched out my arms and legs and just let myself float, tempted to shout to the sky about how great God is and what an incredible gift this trip has been for me, and how blessed I am to be in this healing place right now.

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Mindful of my things on the beach and not wanting to drift too far away, I got myself back in a seated position and played with the sand again, rubbing it all over me the way I did two days ago. I decided to give myself a facial (that’s how soft this sand is!) so I plastered some of it on my face, let it dry a little, and then washed it off in the slightly salty water (Gulf water is less salty than ocean water). A few other people were visible here and there now, wading in the tidal pools or sitting in the shallow water. A young couple obviously in love embraced not too far away. Maybe they were on their honeymoon. I hoped things worked out for them.

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It was getting hotter and there were more people now, including some kids with plastic buckets and shovels collecting shells and hermit crabs. These kids and their equipment triggered a memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny 8 year old, exploring a similar beach much farther north where my parents had rented a vacation cottage for two weeks. That beach was off Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where I remembered the sandbars had stretched out even further into the distance–so far that the deeper water was only a thin dark blue line against the horizon. I remembered playing out there for hours, collecting hermit crabs in my orange plastic bucket and then setting them free, and how fast the incoming tide had moved–so fast my friends and I used to try to race it in. I recalled sunsets seen from our screened in porch, painting the tidal pools pink and orange, and the smell of citronella and the sound of the bug zapper as the armies of mosquitoes dodged into it. Memories of that distant summer fused with the here and now, and time itself seemed to stop. I was still that child, yes–more wounded and damaged, but still essentially intact under my armor born of pain; still curious about everything and still in love with the wonders of the natural world. A child who still possessed the ability to give and receive love.  I always wanted to go back to that place; now I’m here instead.

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Sandbars off Cape Cod Bay, Brewster, Massachusetts

I had no idea how long I remained out there. It seemed like a very long time. I could have stayed in that heavenly spot all day, but being so fair skinned, I knew I should probably head back to the car before I got too sunburned.

The worst toy I ever had.

penny_the_poodle

Christmas, 1966.   For months I’d been begging my parents to buy me the hottest new toy the commercials were telling me I just had to have: a walking, barking dog called Penny the Poodle.  Even if you’re old enough to remember this horrible toy, you may not, because it was quickly forgotten after the initial pre-Christmas hype.    I’m sure millions of small children spent that Christmas Day in tears of disappointment and frustration when they realized Penny the Poodle did NOT live up to the hype.

Here’s the commercial, which in retrospect, was pretty creepy, even for those days:

I remember unwrapping the large box with joyful anticipation, ripping off the green and red foil paper and bows to reveal the “Penny the Poodle” logo and the see-through window on the side of the box that revealed Penny’s Pepto-Bismol pink head.

Eagerly, I pried her out of the box with my small sweaty hands and tried to get her to work.  No batteries were necessary.  Penny was supposed to stand, walk, wag her tail, bark, and turn her head.   She was supposed to do everything a real dog does except poop and pee.

She did nothing.  Instead, she lay on her side on the floor, twitching as if she was having an epileptic seizure.    I tried to right her and squeezed the little remote control to get her to walk, wag her tail, do SOMETHING, but no dice.  She fell over again. This time she didn’t even twitch and convulse. I righted her again and manually tried to make her legs move. Her right leg fell off and lay there on the rug like a turkey drumstick covered in pink gravy. Penny was DOA.

I was heartbroken.  I opened the rest of my presents apathetically, because Penny the Poodle was the toy I had REALLY wanted for Christmas.   I cried on and off for most of the day.

My parents returned Penny to whatever store they had got her from and brought me home a replacement, this one powder blue instead of Pepto Bismol pink.   But this one wouldn’t work either.  Back to the store it went.  My parents refused to get me a third Penny, but by then, I’d given up and was happily playing with my Barbies and Wishnik troll dolls.

Penny the Poodle has curiosity value to toy collectors.   You can find a few on eBay, but none of them seem to be in working order, and probably never were.

Thanks to my readers who voted for me to post a funny true story tonight in the poll I posted earlier. I know this story’s a little sad, but there’s always humor in pathos. Or pathos in humor. Or something like that.