Fashion & Beauty

Ocean Legacies by Joan Leof

1451733162_41d022f363_bPhoto by Angela Sevin via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I sat at the ocean’s edge, warm waves rolled up my aging legs. The water’s rhythms were accompanied by a flood of ocean memories.

This stretch of beach at the Jersey shore was the beach of my childhood. At age eight, I had sat there making a sand castle with my mother. It was the 1950s. A little dark-skinned boy ran by and an old man called him a nasty word.

“What does that word mean?” I asked my mother.

Her face saddened. “It’s a very bad word ignorant people call the colored.”

I borrowed the pencil she always brought to the beach to do her crossword puzzles. Then and there I wrote my first poem.



To each other let’s be good.

That’s the meaning of brotherhood.

What’s the difference of race or creed-

kindness to neighbors is what we need.

So let’s all try to make the USA

a land where all can work and play.


All of those feelings and words pouring out on the page felt like magic. As did seeing the poem published in the school paper under my byline. Now I knew exactly what to answer when people asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”  I was going to be a writer!

What brought my family to that beach? Family history. Nanny, my maternal grandmother, was widowed young, with four small children. She moved her family from Philadelphia to Atlantic City where she opened a boarding house. At Atlantic City High School, my mother was a champion swimmer. She was the first female to swim around the Steel Pier in that city.

When Dad visited the boarding house in the 1930s while in law school, he met mom. They courted, then married. After that, they always took us to that beach town for our summer vacations. I have wonderful  memories of those times. Aunt Tillie’s gooey pastries. Choppy rideson the bay in Uncle Al’s motor boat. My older brother David teaching  me how to catch minnows in a bottle. Mommy showing me how to paint on seashells with water colors on rainy days. Daddy visiting us on weekends — pulling me on a raft, and then taking me to Million Dollar Pier for cotton candy and a ride on the Ferris Wheel.

When I was 13, the family vacations at the shore stopped. We moved to a home in the suburbs where a swimming pool was supposed to take the place of the ocean. But it couldn’t. I yearned for the sea.

In my 30s, I discovered a beach much quieter than that of my youth. Shipbottom, on Long Beach Island. Pretending that I was Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose Gift from the Sea I loved, I’d make my pilgrimage to the beach alone. I’d walk for hours. Siting in the sand by the water’s edge, my body in its bikini-clad prime. Lying on my back waiting for the warm waves to caress. I wrote poetry there. “Full moon lit the ocean lapping. Circle over line. Like a Miro painting.”

In my 40s, I invited a lover to accompany me to my quiet beach. We swam out to where the water was chest high and began kissing. Soon, my bikini pants were in my hand and we were making love. The ocean’s rhythms. Our rhythms. How primitive it felt. How natural. A moment of  total abandon.

The following decades brought new beach rituals at the water’s edge. Yoga. Meditation. Journaling. Especially transporting was the yoga pose that had me bend over with straight knees and place my hands on the sand. Feeling both my hands and feet sinking into its wet surface, I felt like a primordial creature from the sea. Placing my rump on the wet sand, crossing my legs in the lotus posture, closing my eyes and listening to my breath accompanied by the rhythm of the waves was a lulling duet.

Now, my grandmother and parents are gone. My passionate 30s are gone. And so are bikinis!

But I can still touch my toes without bending my knees in a yoga posture.

And I still write poems at the water’s edge.


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