Olivia, Her Grandmother, & The Coast

Since before I can remember, my maternal grandmother has regaled us with stories of the coast. For her, it was the coast of New York’s shores, as she spent her teens years in Rockaway Beach during the 1940s. She spent her days attending to her younger sister, reading books, and people watching the renters who would rent out rooms in their home, close to the water, as if it were a hotel. She claimed, and still claims to this day, that salt water is the cure-all. Emotional, physical, financial, whatever your ailment is: the sea can surely cure it. She is at peace and at home in the ocean, with the sand under her feet. To this day, her favorite activity is still walking along the boardwalk (now a slightly different coast), watching Connecticut across the misty water as she softly hums songs and smiles at passersby.

So, it was no question that when my siblings and I were old enough, it was my grandmother who would be introducing us to the ocean. This time it was the coast of Long Island; the rocky on the north, sandy on the south island. My grandparents owned a lovely beach house, and we would have to boat across a small body of water to the even smaller island on the other side. The island, consisting of houses and a small boardwalk, always felt like an adventure. The house was old, and had been passed down through my grandfather’s family. The relics smelled of endless years of sea water and salt. She would pack tuna fish sandwiches, as we held our cherished baby dolls, life jackets constricting our small bodies, braids in our hair, and my sister and I would run up the creaky wooden stairs, turn around fast, and see the water in front of us, the real world on the other side of the sea; we were safe there, and felt like story book characters.

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It was my grandmother who brought us to the big beaches and after laying down towels and beach bags, took our hands and led us right into the water. She made it very clear that one does not fight the waves, but instead, embrace. Let your body be taken by the water and the water will be your guide. As we slowly learned this lesson, we let the waves lift us up, and crash us down. We learned to love bobbing in the water, the semi-large waves making us feel like we could touch the sky. This was never a question in my grandmother’s eyes: you must love the ocean, you must adore the coast, you must embrace the sea.

So, it was no question who I wanted to introduce the ocean to my son was my grandmother. On an unseasonably warm March day, when my son was around seven months old, the old crew: my grandmother and sister, and a new member, my son, packed into my car and headed to the beach. As soon as I got the stroller together, and my son strapped in, my grandmother quite literally took the reigns and walked off with my son. It was a moment in my life I will never forget. She strolled him down the boardwalk, pointing out the seagulls, sea glass, and strewn about french fry containers. She let the wind touch his face, so he could smell the sea. She told him all about Connecticut, and about how his father (my husband) was living there when mommy met daddy. We did not go down to the water that day, but nevertheless, this was my son’s spiritual baptism into the world. The queen of the coast, the siren of the sea, my grandmother, was inviting her newest sea guppie into her world.

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Olivia M. Howell has been writing stories in her head long before she knew the alphabet. Born and raised on the North Shore of Long Island, where she currently resides, Olivia spends her days with her husband, Eric, and son, Weston. When she’s not writing about the trials and tribulations of new motherhood, she is tutoring Latin and history. Olivia is also an avid quilter, paleo cook, and fan of moving living room furniture around on Saturday nights. You can find her at her website, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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