I was a month away from turning 13 and living in Connecticut when my mother packed us up and headed for the place we knew as Grandma and Grandpa's town; the one I would grow to call my hometown, the "City by the Sea," Long Beach.
I had most of the summer to learn my way around, navigate the short walk to the beach and learn what everybody was wearing before merging my way into a new school district. Being the new kid in seventh grade wasn't going to be easy. As time went on, I learned about egg creams (didn't like them much), bagels and lox (liked them oh so much) on Sunday mornings, and my most favorite sound of all, listening to the gulls screech to each other as my bicycle tires thumped back and forth along the boards of the 2.2 miles of boardwalk, the heart and soul of Long Beach.
I could easily lose a whole day on that boardwalk, what with the arcade, ice cream and knish shops, watching volleyball games down on the beach, finding a friend to gossip with, marveling at the surfers catching the ultimate waves and later, walking hand in hand with a boyfriend, dreaming about tomorrow.
Anything was possible on those 2.2 miles.
I eventually and reluctantly moved away, but echoed so many friends when I said, "There will always be Long Beach sand in my shoes and salt water in my veins."
I married and started a family, promising to follow a time-honored tradition of coming "home" and wheeling the baby stroller on those boards. I kept my promise three times over.
When my grandparents passed away, my mother proudly erected a memorial bench on that boardwalk in their honor with the inscription:
"For sixty years they shared this view
Come rest a while and share it too
In loving memory of Frederick & Helen Romanofsky."
I sat on that bench many times and meditated, conversed with a dragonfly or two and watched the ocean breathe.
As Long Island battened down the hatches in preparation for superstorm Sandy, I never imagined the devastation it would cause to so many. Homes, vehicles and histories washed away all over the Island. Putting things in perspective kind of made our family being without power for eight days seems so insignificant.
What became of the wooden soul of Long Beach? The pictures in the paper didn't do it justice; I had to see it for myself. The first thing I noticed was that there was no safe way of getting up to it, the ramps were torn apart, splintered like match sticks. Instead of the straight away I once raced my 10-speed bicycle up and down, those 2.2 miles now resembled a roller coaster in some sections and a gapped-tooth giant in others.
Benches were thrown around like jumbles of Legos left from a toddler's playtime; or some were just gone, maybe lost out to sea when the force of the ocean meeting the bay in the middle of town showed no mercy.
What of our bench? My mother had cried on the phone to me days before, wondering if this object of so much sentimental value still existed. I needed to know.
Armed with a pair of binoculars, hoping they would help me see inscriptions from 8 to 10 feet below on the beach, I started walking and looking. I knew where it should be, so I used that as my guide. I was hoping against hope, I knew, but my mother's tears were motivation enough.
After a brief walk along the sand on this awkwardly beautiful late afternoon, I saw it. Barely at the edge of the last board, the railing that once served as a great foot rest ripped away, it stood, waiting for me.
"Mom," I sobbed into the phone, "It's here!"
The bench is in storage now with the others that were salvaged. A city official told me that they'll be reinstalled when the boardwalk is rebuilt. And I'm looking forward to many more hours of sitting on it, meditating there and hearing the screech of seagulls.
-- Wendy Phillips Engelhardt,Middle Island
Hey, our house speaks to us, too
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the My Turn letter, "The call of our first house" [Act 2, Jan. 18] and think Carol Hitchcock truly described the "love" her home gave her entire family over the years. As crazy as it may sound I, too, believe our homes speak to us in their own "language" and we can choose to listen, or not.
We've been in our house for almost 35 years and from the minute I walked in with the agent, I knew this was "our home" and that I would live here for a very long time. I never thought of it as our "first home." It was our "forever home."
When my son was born 32 years ago, I knew we would never leave, and he's made us promise that we'll never sell this house unless it's to him.
What a heartwarming story this was, and I thank her for making me realize that, we too, have a lovely home that speaks to us, and thanks us, every single day by keeping us safe, warm and welcomes our family and friends with open arms!
--Ronnie Lago-Yazzo, Malverne
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