When I was growing up in Rockville Centre in the 1970s, my family would drive to Long Beach. Back then, it appeared so innocent, so clean, so simple.
The long boardwalk lined the protected areas of the beach. White sand glistened. Against blue skies, darker blue waters sparkled with sunlight and wet heads and water droplets. Surfers dotted the shoreline.
My dad would toss us into waves, our limbs flailing as we giggled at the sudden flight, landing in water that was both cold and soft. He made up names for the waves and told us stories about them.
This was joy.
It was joy as simple as unexpected laughter, as simple as a sky-blue summer day that's not too hot, as simple as fun.
We learned the fun of bodysurfing, along with the pain of crashing into the hard sand. After cries of ouch, Dad's quick rub on the butt would send us running back into the very ocean that tossed us.
Those experiences drew me to live on Long Beach as an adult. In my first apartment, my bedroom provided a view of the Atlantic. I could hear, see and smell the ocean all the time. Conversations on the boardwalk floated in through the window.
After six years, I moved back to Rockville Centre, but five years later, like the turtle finding the sea, I was called back to Long Beach.
I was living there again when superstorm Sandy hit in October. The bottom half of a house I was renting was flooded with more than three feet of water.
Amid the devastation -- the pieces of the boardwalk strewn by the bay and all over town, the floods that consumed our homes and backyard playgrounds, the sand drifts that trapped cars and blocked traffic -- was a community that refused to go under.
Although sad stories littered our City by the Sea, they bound us together like war buddies. The superstorm turned strangers into friends. Owners of local businesses came into focus as people with children and mortgages. Big-box stores showed a heart with significant discounts to help us rebuild.
Red Cross trucks, the National Guard and people in FEMA jackets populated the area amid the debris and rubbish that lined our streets.
A lot of us left. We had to. Our homes were not livable. We moved in with family or friends. We learned another lesson in grace, because we were given places to live and we were grateful. We shared frustrations and woes about insurance companies and federal aid and reconstruction.
And slowly, mercifully, the flood of angst receded like the tide -- not forgotten, but replaced with resolve.
Nail salons and diners and supermarkets came back. Roads were cleared, homes were rebuilt, storm-damaged cars were replaced. I found a new place to rent in March.
Then summer arrived. From the first weekend in June, I saw fathers playing with their children in the surf, walking toddlers carefully into the water. I watched older kids bodysurf and build sand castles. Now we're watching our famous boardwalk return in pieces.
White sand glistens. Against blue skies, darker blue waters sparkle with sunlight and wet heads and water droplets. Surfers dot the shoreline.
This is hope.
Reader Maureen Cronin lives in Long Beach.