In all my memories of earthly delights, I would have to say my relationship with sand is one of the best. As far back as I can remember, the feel, smell, sight, and sometimes taste of this material has always been associated with joy.
I came into the world occupying one of those depressing row houses in South Philadelphia. There was no sand in Philly – only tar, concrete, and brick. The nearby Jersey shore; however, had lots of sand. So it was to there that my family and I would escape on sweltering hot summer days.
Heading over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to New Jersey, our blue and green 1952 Chevy, painted by a drunken auto body employee, chugged the last few miles to my Aunt Amina’s restaurant in Wildwood. The aroma of tomato sauce, garlic, and fish led us to the kitchen where we would find my aunt, a tiny woman whose speech resembled the sound of a machine gun, performing a culinary ballet. Stirring the contents of huge pots, flipping fish carcasses and twirling pasta, she looked like a symphony conductor gone mad. After some conversation and a few quick kisses, we would grab what food we could with our hands, stuff our mouths and head out the back door to the beach.
The pilgrimage to the shore was a slow, sensuous foreplay that nearly drove me wild with anticipation. I would race ahead to the last grass-covered dune and take in the scene with all of my senses. Multicolored umbrellas dotted the beach and the smell of suntan lotion filled the air. The fishy smell of the brackish salt flats wafted on an occasional breeze while handsome young Casanovas played their guitars and sang sweet songs of love won and lost.
That first step into the sand was like consuming a torrid love affair that went on for a lifetime. The warm particles would ooze through my toes sending currents of excitement rippling through my body, culminating in a salt-air nirvana. Pure ecstasy filled my heart as I put one foot in front of the other to reach the wet climax of the Atlantic.
As the years sped by, the sand castles of my childhood gave way to stolen kisses under a weathered boardwalk that provided shelter from the midday sun. The now cool and moist sand held the secrets of my youthful indiscretions. The winds of change were shifting, and the landscape of my life was changing as well.
When turbulence came, I traded one coast for another, swapping the soft, shifting sand of my youth for the rocky cliffs of San Francisco. Flowers replaced the umbrellas and the music changed from gentle love songs to angry protests. Yet, in the midst of the sandstorm, I found my way to an oasis where a calming love entered my life.
Twenty toes dug into a course, sand-covered bluff as I became we. Flower petals drifted between us as we sipped sweet wine to a chorus of seals. That day, I made a wish that the sands of time would blow gently through our lives.
When the union produced a beautiful child, I thought about which of nature’s gifts I would show him first. It wasn’t hard. At two days old, I held him in my arms by the ocean and scooped up part of the seaside carpet. As I slowly brought it up to his face for inspection, I whispered softly, Sand.