Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Mother and Her Ocean Antics

It's summertime and I'm 2400 miles away from the ocean. The Atlantic, that is. It's the one I feel connected to. Did you know that people who are born and raised by the ocean have body rhythms that are in sync with it and that no matter how far away they may travel or even resettle these rhythms are always a part of them? 

Okay, I made that up, but it's a theory I have.

 Could there exist in another dimension an umbilical cord of sorts that reaches from me to the Atlantic?

Just another theory. 

 I know that your sweat and tears are salty, but I'm convinced mine are saltier.

My mother was neither born nor raised near the ocean. She's originally from Indiana. She moved to Cape Cod at about the same age I was when I moved away.

But let me tell you about my mother and the ocean.

My mother is so at home in the ocean that you would think she had slipped out of a fish egg case at the bottom of Cape Cod Bay.

When she's ready for a swim, there's no pussyfooting around, no matter how cold the rest of us may think the water might be. She plows through until the water reaches just above her knees and then immediately performs her signature shallow dive into the oncoming waves.

At our neighborhood beach, we usually swam in a boat channel that leads out to Lewis Bay. My mom would do the signature shallow dive, surface, turn and tell the rest of us how beautiful the water was, then proceed to swim across the channel. When she got back, she'd swim in far enough that she could touch bottom. The rest of us would be swimming around or just treading water. If you watched my mother, you might notice after a while that her shoulders would alternatingly (pretty sure I just made up a word) move to and fro, to and fro, to and fro. Just slightly. Then suddenly she would bring her feet up to her hands. And you knew she had one. Yes, my mother is expert at digging quahogs with her feet. I don't know anyone else who can do it. (Except possibly my Aunt Peachy, her sister, who also slipped out of a fish egg case in a strange rebirth as a young adult.) Then she'd drop her haul into the top of her bathing suit and finish her swim. She'd take the loot (yes, loot, because shell fishing is only allowed on Sundays) up to the house and put it in the fridge.

From the time we were babies, our mother took us to the beach every summer day. She'd pack a lunch. We'd spend the entire day swimming, playing in the sand, eating, and napping on the beach. We'd go back up to the house at suppertime.

This is me with a strategically placed shovel.
my big sister and I at the beach

She took us to Nauset Light Beach, part of the National Seashore, in Eastham. The water is cold on that side of the Cape and the waves are big. She taught us to body surf when we were just tiny children. She was perfectly comfortable playing in the undertow and so were we.  

When the grand kids came along, she spent hours in the water with them. She made sure she had enough of those foam noodles for everyone and she'd ride the current down the channel with them. They loved to swim through her legs. Over and over. They also loved to have her throw them from her shoulders. She would completely submerge herself. While underwater, a grandchild would climb up her and sit on her shoulders. Then she would rise up out of the water, sometimes with a handful of seaweed she'd found under there for the child to put on his or her head. She'd bend at the knees, and on the count of three, hurl the little swimmer off. She would repeat with each grandchild until they all had had several turns. She allowed them to do this until they were way too big. 

My parents began spending their winters in Florida after they retired. (They eventually sold their home and moved there.)  My mother took up snorkeling in the Keys. She loves it. But swimming around looking at the beautiful tropical fish is not enough for her. She likes to explore.  She takes a stick with her when she snorkels. She calls it her tickler. She pokes at stuff and turns things over. She's looking for those warm water lobsters they have in the South.

"I just tickle them out," she says.

She just tickles them out.

She doesn't keep them. It's just for sport.

Sometimes she likes to relax in the water. She has an inflatable raft that has arms like a chair and a cup holder, I think.  She likes to take it out a ways, moor herself using a rock tied to a line, and just float in the swells and read a good book.

But she'd better not get too comfortable. Her first two great-grandchildren are due this summer. They are currently practicing their swimming in utero.  Just a few years from now, they're going to want her to swim with them. She'd better stay in shape because I'm not sure any of the rest of us, born and raised by the ocean as we were, will ever be up to her speed. 

Nine out of ten grandchildren.

This one's for you, John. Ten out of ten.

(Somewhere I have a picture of my daughter Carolyn on my mother's shoulders in the water, with seaweed on her head, right before being hurled off. Of course I can't find it.)


  1. I love it! I wonder if I can still fit between her legs...

  2. What an amazing person your mom is! No wonder you turned out to be equally amazing! I loved hearing about her!

  3. That is truly amazing to me! And I hope to see that picture of Carolyn on FB when you can get your fingers on it.

  4. I love reading all your posts. You need to write a book.