Seagulls squawk and Anna inhales salt air. Stopped while the bay bridge rises to allow a large sleek catamaran to pass, she admires the spire mast and imagines the glorious day ahead for the crew. Her stomach rumbles. I wonder if they have a picnic lunch packed. Sails unfurl. Ocean breeze rustles blonde hair, and everyone laughs and munches turkey sandwiches heaped on sourdough bread. The pop of a champagne cork fuels the afternoon gaiety.
The tap of a horn jogs Anna from her reverie. She puts the car back into gear, with a farewell nod to the boat. Like a school of fish, cars pour downstream from Somers Point into Ocean City. Her younger brother, Travis, invited her for the weekend. She worked late yesterday, but with an early Saturday morning start, the two-hour drive proved uneventful. Childhood memories kept her brain busy as she checked off familiar landmarks.
The majestic Philadelphia Art Museum rose up as Anna pressed her eight-year old forehead against the car window; the Walt Whitman Bridge passed as Travis and she, age ten, argued first dibs on the kickboard; Egg Harbor toll plaza where high school friends, stuffed into Tammy’s yellow Mustang, pooled change to pay the dollar; and a beach week on her own after college to calm fears of entering the business jungle.
Anna knows Ocean City blindfolded. However, eyes open, she overlooks the seedy Flamingo Motel, the rickety wooden steps leading to the boardwalk, and the eroding shoreline. Instead she revels in the arcade bells, pizza dough flying in the air as the Italian boys work their booth, and the rainbow of saltwater taffy colors.
Today as she cruises to 21st Street, Anna watches families stumble to the beach in flip-flops, juggle chairs and coolers, and herd children. She brushes aside a wisp of brown hair and thinks of her late mother and mountains.
Mom hated the shore, sun, and sand. She’d leave the beach rental to lean over the boardwalk railing to wave to us. Her red hair and freckled skin glowed pale We’d hustle to show her our sandcastles, our paddle board ride, or plead for her to come sit on the towel with us. She declined and rustled meals from a stubborn gas stove, sprayed our sunburned shoulders with Bactine, and swept the endless grains of tracked-in sand.
Our vacations were her week of torture. Mom yearned for cool temperatures, a lazy game of shuffleboard, and a hike along a trail. Trade salt air for a whiff of mountain laurels.
Anna arrives, slams her car door, and beach bag in hand, she says, “Travis, next week we’re headed to the Poconos.”