The sky was so big. I think that's what I remember most about Margate.
I couldn't understand why the sky there seemed to be an endless supply
of clouds - when, back home, there were hardly any at all. On the turnpike,
as we left Philly, I could literally see the skies open up - more and more,
until they burst into view, upon my first step onto the boardwalk.
But, they say that the strongest memories come from smell. Sitting in
the back seat with my brother and sister, and clutching my ratty, stuffed
kitty, I couldn't wait to get my first whiff of the seaweed, the rough, pebbly,
sand, and coconut oil. Back then, nobody had air conditioning in their cars -
and even in New Jersey, on Fourth of July weekend, it could still be pretty
warm. But, with the windows open, going 55 miles an hour, Nature's air
conditioning was plentiful, particularly as you got down toward the ocean.
The first sign that we had arrived, was the giant Coppertone billboard. It was
always a little shocking - in those days - to see that picture of the little blond,
pony-tailed girl, turning around to look at her sunburned behind.
The air smelled hot, and raw. The Atlantic Ocean is a real one - kind of like
the Heinz 57 dog at the Humane Society. No soft, pure white sands here -
no. The slipperiness under your flip-floppy toes was coarse, and dirty-colored, and filled with cigarette butts - some with lipstick on them, and some not. Jelly-fish
were always a danger along the New Jersey shoreline - and there were even
signs posted up about them - at least, back then.
I've traveled, since those windy, sunburned days, to more exotic
beaches. Jamaica, and the south of France, however, just don't hold a candle
to America's eastern seaboard. Even Hawaii's volcanic paradise never
gripped my senses like Margate.
The ocean can be very violent there - as if God doesn't care whether you
get caught up in it, or not.
Sometimes people go into that rough-hewed, very salty-green water, and
they don't come out. And you hear scary stories about fishermen, and
idiot kids paddling towards Heaven, on knee-skinning, squeaky rafts.
I guess that's what happened to Daddy. One day, he went in, and didn't
come back. But, this was many, many years later - and he wasn't at the beach.
He got tangled up in the very rough water of life - and again, God didn't
seem to care. It didn't matter to Him one way or the other, did it?
I guess that He was too busy with other things that day - and if He were
only human, I couldn't blame Him. There are so many people, suffering
everywhere; a person just doesn't have the time to oversee everything,
But, He's supposed to be God - and bigger than all that - or, is He? He
certainly made the waters at Margate to be powerful enough. Maybe,
once He had finished making the world, He said, "Okay! I'm pooped!
That's plenty of miracles for right now! Those humans are going to just
have to stay out of trouble, for awhile. What do they expect, that I'm
going to be able to pull them out of any jam that heads their way?"
Well, like - yeah. Yeah. I thought that's what God does. Well, at least
when I was a little kid - on the New Jersey turnpike.
I'm not that silly and naive anymore. When they found the little plastic bag,
filled with Daddy's wallet, keys, and pictures, and, then, about the autopsy, I only got sick to my stomach one time.
And, today's Father's Day. God is out there, smiling down, and watching all
of the Daddy's and their families, eating lunch at Denny's, and opening
clumsily wrapped packages of cartooned-ties, and pin-encrusted, cotton
I guess that He's put my Daddy's kids out of His mind today - I mean, it is a
family holiday, isn't it? He wouldn't want to ruin it with the nightmares of
a little girl, crying inside an older lady. The little girl, clutching her floppy,
stuffed kitty, is sobbing, and weeping for Daddy.
I love you, Daddy.
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