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On Ocean Parkway, a breezy reminder of why we live on Long Island

Aerial views of Jones Beach State Park, facing

Aerial views of Jones Beach State Park, facing east, showing Ocean Parkway on April 19, 2015. Credit: Kevin Coughlin

I grew up on Long Island in the 1950s. You know: Levitt houses, Davy Crockett hats, Hula-Hoops.

Jones Beach was the place to go for all baby boomers, when we were actually babies — sweaty, oily, sandy, sunburned and irrepressibly happy.

My father once told my sister and me that the Jones Beach Tower was the Empire State Building, and we believed him. In the pedestrian underpass between the parking field and the beach, I’d scream because it echoed — and annoyed the grown-ups.

Pals from my Salisbury Park neighborhood and I built sand castles, dug holes and buried each other. We adopted sand crabs as pets for the afternoon.

On the way home, Jimmy, my best friend, and I counted rabbits that emerged from hiding places in the dune grass alongside the parkways in the late-afternoon shadows.

A few years later, Jones Beach was where I went to meet guys, where I went with guys, and where girlfriends and I went to get tans and talk about guys. I drove my silver blue 1968 AMC Javelin in circles around the tower. I walked or jogged along the boardwalk by myself.

As a mother, I brought my son, Joshua, to the beach when he was 3 years old. My eyes teared up as I realized that he might form the same memories of the beach that I did.

Years later, thoughts of those days came flooding back to me.

I had been driving daily between a home in Patchogue and a job in Garden City, nearly 40 miles each way on the Long Island Expressway, the Southern State Parkway or Sunrise Highway. One hour? Two hours? Depends on the traffic situation and/or how strict the police were on any particular day.

One day in April, tired of those jammed highways on my way home, I veered south on the Meadowbrook Parkway to Ocean Parkway, the state highway that parallels Jones Beach. I was practically alone. Ahead of me, the sky was dark, with more stars visible than most places on Long Island. In the rearview mirror was a blazing sunset. To my left were lights from water-view homes. To my right was the Atlantic Ocean, next to which most of my ancestors have lived on one side or the other.

The day was cold, but I opened the windows so I could smell the salty air and hear the breezes in the dune grass. The day’s stress fell away.

This is why we live on Long Island, I thought. Not for the traffic or the taxes or the crooked politicians, but for the beaches and the dune grass and the Long Island summers.

Here’s to another one.

Reader Patricia Collins lives in Middle Island.