Sunday, July 11, 2004

Fragrances & Memories

The extended stay of the "June Gloom" has finally evaporated. It's the typical weather we get along the southern California coast... a thick marine layer that blankets the coastal cities, and hangs around for much of the day until the sun finally decides to burn it off. It was a bit persistent this year. But, this weekend, it has faded. It lingers just off the coast, yet keeps a respectful distance.

It was an opportune time to head to the beach and get some color in my cheeks (even if only for a few minutes). I flopped on a hat, flipped a couple towels over my shoulder, gripped my faded copy of St. Augustine's Confessions (I'm halfway thru it, and am determined to finish it... eventually), grabbed a bottle of cool water, and headed to the harbor's coastline.

As I walked across the sand and climbed over a small dune, I smelled the salt air. And in my next inhalation, there it was... subtle... in the distance... but it was there. That unmistakable fragrance of... creosote! Pine tar. And in the blink of my eye I'm no longer 40 years old. I'm 12... 10... eight years old. And 3000 miles away, facing an opposite compass direction, viewing a completely different ocean.

Now, don't laugh. Let me explain. Creosote is used to preserve and protect the boardwalks & piers along the Jersey shore line. It's necessary, and it's lathered on during the off-season. But, during the summer, you can sometimes still smell it... subtle... sweet... yet pungent... and mixed with the salty sea air... and the Planter's Peanuts... and the popcorn... and the salt water taffy.

It's Atlantic City, before the casinos overtook the town. It's the Steel Pier with it's diving horse and diving bell. It's the Million Dollar Pier, not as a fancy outdoor mall but as a vast pine planked playground of games and rides and thrills and screams and laughter.

It's Margate... and Lucy The Elephant... and the long-forgotten Casablanca Motel. It's buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken... and Gino Giants and Sirlioners. It's rubber rafts... beach umbrellas... the wift of Coppertone... and bronzed skin. It's family vacations... and temporarily forgotten worries. It's that home away from home. And it's memories of Mom, who went to the open arms of our Lord a little over two years ago.

"I miss you, Mom," I said to myself as I smiled, squinted at the sun, took another deep breath, and continued my brief trek across the sand.

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