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Sixty-Something: The Importance Of East End Beaches

T.J. Clemente

Everyone on the East End has all sorts of beach stories from when they were children, teens, and adults. There are campfire stories, big wave stories, perhaps even some first kiss stories. (Photo: TJ Clemente)

Being an island, Long Island is surrounded by water, and is the largest island in the contiguous United States, stretching 118 miles long with a maximum of 23 miles wide. It also has at the east end the famous two forks with a huge Shelter Island in between the North and South Forks. All Long Islanders know these facts and all Long Islanders have their favorite Long Island beach.

On the East End, it goes beyond that - we all have a personal beach. A close-by beach we get to when we need to think, or are upset, or need to see a sunrise or sunset. It is a beach we have a personal attachment and relationship with. It makes us happier the minute we see the water as we approach our personal familiar beach.

How many times do you get to your beach and right up where the sand begins and the parking lot ends, there are a few local work trucks with the folks inside sipping coffee or eating a lunch on their work break?

There was a time I made deliveries all over the North and South Fork and was not on a clock but paid by the route. Within the routes I had beaches I would pull up to, turn off the engine and have a few seconds to smoke a cigarette, sip a coffee and think about things and collect thoughts. Then I'd start the vehicle up and get back to work. Does this sound familiar? I bet it does.

This last mid-September weekend my wife Cindi, and I went to our local ocean beach and took what might have been our last ocean swims should the weather suddenly turn colder as it does this time. It was a magnificent Indian Summer day at the ocean with the lifeguards now all gone, most back at school. Therefore the beach goers are more spread out, not all gathered around lifeguard chairs. There are no ropes, no set aside areas, no policing. Everyone is on the honor system and let's face it, it is an honor to live so close to the water and be able to get there on such days.

My wife and I are both sixty-something in age but in the surf at the ocean's edge we again act and feel again like young children. At water's edge we all remember holding hands with our grandparents, parents, siblings, partners, children and grandchildren over our lifetimes.

A personal funny story is I wasn't always living on Long Island but was always jealous of those who lived so close to the beaches. I had to take big bridges and crowded highways to get to the ocean now just a hand full of miles from my front door. At my high school [Pelham Memorial High School] there is a tradition of the class in mass getting to Jones Beach the morning after the senior prom.

So back in June 1971, I was part of the multitude of blankets lined up in forever lines at Jones Beach. However even by then my eye sight without eyeglasses was abominable. It was a really hot day, the kind of day walking on the sand was like walking on hot coals. So quickly we made our way into the ocean's waves to celebrate so many things, like high school ending forever, summer beginning, and being teenagers. As we all know the ocean has a current one way or another and moves you either up the shoreline or down it.

If you stay in the ocean a long time it can be quite a distance between where you entered it and where you exit. I believe I was the last of our group to exit, and when I stepped out of the breaking waves and exited the swirling surf I looked up to find my blanket but instead was horrified by only seeing one million blankets all kind of like mine with people kind of like my classmates on them, but not actually my blanket or classmates. Then the hot as coal sand started to burn the bottoms of my feet. I had to bend over and squint at "thousands" of folks on blankets navigating through hot thin aisles of sand, with people looking at me saying an assortment of things.

Finally a classmate saw me, and I might add from a great distance away and rescued me. I was amazed how far away I was and since that day until this last weekend I always went into the ocean with my glasses and a strong safety strap to keep them on my head.

However in the last week I had laser surgery on both eyes and no longer need to wear glasses at all! So this last weekend at the beach was my first in 50 years where I didn't need glasses to go in and swim and come out and find my towel and chair!

Everyone on the East End has all sorts of beach stories from when they were children, teens, and adults. There are campfire stories, big wave stories, perhaps even some first kiss stories. The truth is we all know and understand the importance to us of our East End beaches. This last weekend, as I sat in my beach chair next to my wife, I was really happy.


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