Our first home in New York was in Long Beach, Long Island. He told me I would be mad about how small it would be. He said it so often I began to worry. Until I walked in. It was perfect for two people who would work a lot of hours in offices far away. Just right for our new little family of two; we were only married for about 4 months at the time of move-in.
It was 2 blocks from the beach. There will probably never be a time in our lives we live near a beach again. I wish I had taken more photos. I wish I had written about it at the time.
But I didn't, so here's a shot at hazy memory lane.
I remember each time I walked or went running on the boardwalk I would pass an old brick building with a sign on it that said "fallout shelter". I had never seen a sign like that before. I always wanted to check it out. See if there were old, dusty cans of food stacked on shelves or just rusty old puddles of water in a dark area that wanted company once in a while.
I will always remember the scent filling my nostrils while rounding the corner. I tasted the salt water air on the roof of my mouth with that first deep breath. I am pretty sure I smiled every single time; that scent never gets old or familiar to someone who was raised on a desert.
I wondered about the ocean-view buildings and the people living inside of them. What the boardwalk was like in the summer. I tried to guess when those modern condos had been built and imagine the character erased from the one that stood before. Many buildings were for retired people, but not the kind that are able to play shuffle-board.
I remember our first Sunday, we couldn't find the place to meet for church. We were told it was in a tiny little dance studio that rented space on the top floor of a store along the busy street. We couldn't find it. Oh, flower shop, I think it was above a flower shop. We drove up and down that main street for 30 minutes and went back home.
An hour after church an older woman with a looooooong island accent appeared at the door and wanted to welcome us. She brought with her a little loaf of banana bread wrapped in plastic wrap and a little gold sticker on it. She knew my name and said they were all expecting us and couldn't wait to meet us. I learned this to be the honest truth. We were surely needed. Even though the banana bread was gross, like the ones stacked up on the counter of a gas station or bodega, that gesture was what kept my feet grounded many times when I got homesick.
The following week we found the place. I remember there as a strange note on the door written in paper that caused us both to pause, but I don't recall what it read. Something about the missionaries and making sure we are safe (?). Something like 'no drugs allowed' or something completely unusual. We proceeded up the rickety, tired, old steps to a large, shiny dance floor and about 10 cold, metal folding chairs arranged in two rows of 5. We knew it was going to be a small crowd, Mormons in Long Beach, but we didn't realize THIS small. Mike was one of about 3 men total. The rest of the congregation, about 8 usuals, were women in their 60's and beyond. Except for one, she was in her 30s. I was 22. Each week I was selected to say an opening or closing prayer and/ or taught some kind of lesson. It was a safe place for me to learn to be a Mormon. It was nice to feel so needed every single week.
This room did not have working heat, so in the winter you kept your coat on and people brought blankets to keep warm. Someone always brought an extra blanket because they knew I would forget. That line my mother will understand best and smile.
I remember one lady would always stand and talk about her husband who didn't hear so well. I wondered if he heard anything she was saying while he sat next to her, sometimes snoring while he slept. She referred to him as "Sarge" and she would tell the same stories about him every week. She would always have the same high level of energy and enthusiasm telling it and laugh at the same parts like it was comedy night each time. I got the biggest kick out of her. I remember at Christmas she gave everyone things from the dollar store. The 30-year-old lovingly joked about how she gives out this sort of stuff each year and rolled her eyes a little. It made me feel embarassed how much it meant to recieve anything at all from someone and made me wonder if I was too touched by dollar store giftage. Do I really please too easily? It just felt good to be thought of, especially because I only had one New York friend at the time. Her and these ladies at church were my only local friends for a long time.
There were many ladies who were too old and ill to come to church on Sundays. A couple of them would arrive and sit briefly in the back, then leave before the end. I never remembered their names, but there was one that was my favorite of all the ladies. She snuck in like a ghost and watched me the whole time. She was always bundled up in a lot of clothing, but I could still tell she had a frail little body under all of it. She kept very still and quiet. She had these baby soft, full cheeks and a clever smile. It was like she couldn't wait to tell me some great secrets. She looked at me like we were old friends, always peering playfully when I would glance over my shoulder at the chair by the stairs. She had a bandage taped over her left eye every time. I wanted to talk to her, but at the end she would be gone or already shuffling slowly down those dangerous stairs. It was a little empty on those Sundays her chair remained empty. I wonder about her now, if she is still alive 8 years later. I also wonder if we will recognize each other in heaven and if I get to hear what those secrets are.