Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer of '42

A band of hot days came in long succession, Italian ones with low thick air. I had a rare free day with my daughter and we decided to visit an outlet store in Massachusetts that would surely have air conditioning and get us out of the uncomfortable house. My mother joined us. After the shopping part was done, we drove close to the coast for a bit when suddenly my mother called out from the back seat, “We’re near Nantasket Beach!” I knew that Nantasket was where my mother spent her summers as a small child during the war years.  She had already told us stories about not being able to use a camera on the beach (apparently, the edict wasn’t obeyed – we have several photographs), her favorite game of searching for submarine periscopes out on the sea's horizon, the long sultry nights in a cottage without air conditioning, endless carousel rides, startlingly large waffles at a boardwalk eatery, the perils of consuming too many salt water taffies before bed, and all manner of wonderful beachy memories. And so we had no problem continuing with our ramble down the coast on this stifling day until we reached Nantasket.
The first clue we were there besides seeing a blue cove dotted with sailboats, was a large round carousel at the entrance to the downtown area. Mom sat upright, “The carousel!"  My daughter slowed the car so Mom could peer into the old weathered wooden building to glimpse the dancing horses. “They’re playing music! Listen!”, she said.
Around a bend, we found “her” house on a small hill that led directly down to the beach and with her finger she pointed up at the bedroom where she had slept as a little girl, with hair plaited by my grandmother and streaked by the sun.  There was an alarmingly small window at the top of the modest bungalow and we were in awe of being able to sleep in such a place without air conditioning. “It looks the same…the exact same!”, she marveled. As we turned onto the old boardwalk; more calling out and then, “There’s Joseph’s! It’s the waffle place!” Today Joseph’s is a honkytonk clam shop/arcade combo and not a waffle was to be found listed on the giant menu hanging outside. Only the name of the establishment remained. But Mom’s dark eyes were dancing with delight when we passed The Fascination, the real arcade of her childhood summer.  My heart swelled with tenderness and I caught my daughter's own misty eyes under her dark glasses.  We were told even more stories about  how when fathers were gone, mothers still took their children out of the city to swim and play at the beach in a time when sunburns were nothing to worry about.  And even though there was a war on, grownups made sure life was about breakfast at Joseph’s, small tin pails and shovels, sand in shoes, and eating cheese sandwiches and dripping orange popsicles on an old scratchy wool blanket borrowed from the landlady’s parlor. 
We left Nantasket behind us and although waffles were also not on the menu at the quaint seaside restaurant we found on the way home, my daughter and I dined with a lively sun soaked little girl in braids.
(Above is my mother and grandmother on the sand at Nantasket Beach, 1942)


  1. Lovely blog! I really enjoyed reading your story! Beautiful!


  2. Wonderful story and I hope your mom read this, Donna!! Is that an image of her above? I've never heard of this beach, but I do understand so completely the horror and fascination when we modern women look at the tiny, stuffy houses that contained our mother's and grandmother's memories. No AC? Unheard of! Just loved this soooo much! I'm so glad you gave your mother that charming day, my dear! She no doubt slept a bit better that night for having seen a glimpse of her happy summer days.

  3. I enjoyed reading about Nantasket Beach. I have many family photos all taken at Nantasket Beach back in the 1920's and 30's. Your writing is very enjoyable and evokes memories my own childhood back in the 50's.

  4. You know. I have never been to Nantasket Beach! I will have to take a ride some day. I enjoyed your story and look forward to your next. :-)

  5. Thank you for this beautiful story.