David Treadwell

David Treadwell

As I walked onto Manatee Beach on Anna Maria Island in Florida, a teenaged boy rushed by me, crying out, “Freedom at last!” He reminded me of me as a kid — or me even now. There’s just something about beaches. Here, with apologies to Willie Nelson, is an ode, “To All the Beaches I’ve Loved Before.”

Jones Beach (Long Island). In the late 1940’s, my parents sometimes took my two siblings and me from Montclair, New Jersey to Jones Beach. All I remember is wading in the surf and getting sand between my toes and falling asleep on the way home. I also came to know that the words, “We’re going to Jones Beach today.” meant good times ahead.

Cape Hatteras (North Carolina). My Boy Scout troop in West Virginia collected old newspapers to pay for the big spring trip to Cape Hatteras. I remember a stunning Easter sunrise service on the beach as well as a wicked sunburn, which resulted in peeling skin because no one used sunscreen back then. Thirty years later my first wife, my two sons and I spent many happy vacations on Cape Hatteras. The highlight: Catching 18 fifty-pound yellow-fin tuna on a one-day charter fishing trip and then selling them to a restaurant, thereby paying for the trip and more. The lowlight: hiring the same captain to take us out on the same boat at the same time the following year and catching nothing, while son David spent the day down below being seasick.

Point Judith (Rhode Island). During the first spring of my first marriage, my wife and I rented a cottage for $125 a month right near the water, relieved that we didn’t have to pay the outrageous summer rate of $125/week. Cape Cod (Massachusetts). Visiting Nauset Beach in Orleans with old college friends was memorable, especially the time when a drunk guy named Danny (maybe it was Ronnie) in diapers rode a tricycle at the head of the Fourth of July parade.

Ocean City (Maryland). When Baltimore natives decide to spend the day at Ocean City, they say, “‘I’m going downy oshun.” We went “downy oshun” a few times and gorged on tasty Thrasher french fries doused in malt vinegar (another Baltimore thing.)

St. John’s (U.S. Virgin Islands). Until it closed five years ago, Tina and I often visited Maho Bay, an eco-friendly campground which featured tents on stilts, pristine beaches and great snorkeling.

My all-time favorite beach is Popham Beach right here in Maine. We go there several times every summer, spurred on by family visitors who always put a day at Popham on their must-do list. I first went to Popham as a Bowdoin student in the early 1960s. One memorable spring weekend in 1963, guys in our fraternity carried a piano onto the beach for some partying, just because they were young and they could. That was the same year a Bates student tragically died at Popham and you can see the memorial for him on the island at Popham.

As for my most memorable beach? Hands down, the beaches at Normandy, the site of the largest amphibian invasion in history on June 6, 1944. After seeing the beaches and imagining the extraordinary courage of thousands of Allied soldiers, we spent time at the American cemetery with its long rows of white crosses, each one a poignant reminder of the price of freedom.

Now you know why the “Life’s a Beach” tee shirt has a special meaning for this old guy.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” column at [email protected]

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