The best thing in the world–one of them, anyway–is to feel sand beneath your bare toes when you walk on a sidewalk.
That’s what I thought when I was a kid visiting my cousins in Rockaway in Queens, New York.
They lived in a 2-story gray house tucked behind another house a block and a half from the water. The air smelled sharp, of brine from the ocean, and popcorn and hot dogs from the boardwalk.
You could walk down the block and go straight from concrete to the fine, warm sand of a Long Island beach. Turn left, and you’d be on the splintery boardwalk wood. I must’ve been small, because I could never see the top of the vendors’ carts, only the sides. I got only a glimpse of the pink cotton candy in white paper cones and the hot dogs impaled on spikes. The open doors of the arcades and other attractions were off limits.
I must’ve been very small.
When I told my parents we should move there, they laughed. They each came from the City–Mom from Brooklyn and Dad from the Bronx. To them, suburbia meant moving on up. To me, it meant deadly, deadly boredom.
At night, the pink and yellow boardwalk lights lit up the sky. I heard music against the background of the gentle surf.
Decades later, when I lived in Northern California, the feeling of Rockaway came back to me when I walked along the beach in Santa Cruz and entered the dark arcade with its flashing neon and ringing bells. It wasn’t a feeling of remembrance, though. Just a feeling of loss.
Why are children so powerless?
My cousins didn’t live in Rockaway too long. My older cousin went to live in Japan. My other cousin, an accomplished accordianist–we used to be so close–I’m not sure where he is. Somewhere playing his music, I hope.
My Rockaway is gone. All the little single-family houses were knocked down to build high-rise apartments. At least, that’s what I heard. I’m not going back.
As long as I don’t go back to find out, the sand will still be warm beneath my toes.
By S.J. Driscoll