Memories —The Surprise Gift of Old Age

I rarely get up early enough to see the sunrise nowadays. But there was a time when I did. I loved the solitude of it. An old log cabin in the woods and a trail to the marshes lit everything orange and red. There was nothing like the color of the sand dunes and the water so early in the morning. Even the sound of the waves was different.

It was my father who taught me to love it – something I realized only recently. Funny how time affects memory.

For most of my life I have given little thought to my father. He was rarely present. Parenting was not on his list of important things to do.

His childhood provided no role models: a father who committed suicide when Dad was just seven years old and a mother who spoke little English, having immigrated from Russia as a young woman. She took in a boarder and eked out a living as a seamstress. Dad quit school at 15 to work as a messenger in the garment district of New York City to help support her and his sister. I wonder if he was ever hugged or praised.

No surprise then that being a parent or even showing affection were skills he never acquired. He saw his role as provider, working as a traveling salesman and frequently away from home for weeks at a time. The work was commission based and he worried constantly about money. There were few pleasures in his life with one exception – the summer.

During his travels Dad found his little piece of heaven – a small, old town in Southern New Jersey called Ocean Gate. It sat like a sunbather on the beaches and marshes of Barnegat Bay. The houses were old and weathered. The few year-round residents worked in the nearby boat building factory or put together a living fishing and doing odd jobs.

There were hardly any paved roads and gravel lanes led to hidden yards where fishing equipment and old boat engines lay on patches of grass and sand. Mosquitoes and green flies outnumbered people.

Although my mother detested it, we rented an aging log cabin in the woods near the marshes. It was our “Summer Place.”

From the time I was seven until I began college we spent summers in that cabin in Ocean Gate.

Dad would try to limit his travels so that he could be home by late afternoon during the week and all the time on weekends. To his surprise I loved it! And I thrived!!

I learned to light cattails to keep bugs away. I swam like a fish and stayed in the part cedar water until I turned brown and my mother made me come home. I went crabbing and picked wild blueberries and blackberries. I learned to recognize birds by their calls, made friends with a little red fox, fed the ducks and geese and sat still and silent as the deer came to have breakfast.

At sunrise I would quietly sneak out to walk, barefoot and in my pajamas, the few hundred yards to the marsh. I loved the smell of it and the way the salty air coated my skin, turning it red and freckled.

As I grew older, I still made time to spend a few days there. A nearby campground replaced the cabin. Somehow the marsh remained untouched, protected by law, the few year-round residents understanding what a gift Mother Nature had given them.

I have not returned to my beloved marsh and Barnegat Bay in several years and I miss it terribly. But I have my photos taken over time. The world has changed so much since I was that barefoot child. Somehow, the marsh and bay remain the same. It is a magical place. In my mind I can hear the seagulls as they soar overhead and the gentle breeze rustling the cattails. And I see my father, tall and thin, in baggy pants and a tee shirt, fishing rod in hand and a look of pure contentment on his face.

Sweet Memories. One of the few gifts poor health and old age have given me.


  1. Thanks for another postcard from your past, Carole. My parents had similar memories, but their families went to “the Catskills”, a euphemism for a rundown bungalow camp. Enjoy the fond memories and try to let the unpleasant ones go.

    • Ah…The Catskills! Many of my New York relatives spent summers there. As a young adult I spent some holiday time there at a few of the hotels. My Goodness….the food!!!

      As always, Mark, thank you for taking the time to reply. It means a lot to me. I hope you are well.

  2. Memories are our jewels & treasures. We accumulate them on our life’s journey, take comfort and joy from them as we age and if fortunate pass them on to family to add to their reminiscences of us and generations past as if those memories were their own..

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