From the time I was 4 or 5 until I was 17, we spent summers in Breezy Point — bungalows and then the Surf Club.
We’d travel down to the club from Flatbush in the morning — around 10 a.m. or so — and Mom would park the Chevy Malibu station wagon in an area that, 30 years before that, had been oceanfront, before the Army Corps of Engineers built the jetties.
This was in the ’60s.
We’d unload the car, schlep everything up to the cabana and begin the walk to the beach at the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula where the club was located. That required a long and painful haul across a large gravel parking lot past the oceanfront cabanas and down to the beach.
Watching kids like us hoofing it on the gravel without shoes or flip-flops probably brought to mind Buddhists walking on hot coals. By summer’s end, it would be tough to pierce the soles of our feet with nine-inch nails; the calluses became that dense.
Then, the beach was ours. Sometimes the moms would join us later in the day, and at other times they were content to stay back, fix lunch for us and enjoy themselves a mid-week martini or two.
When we rented a bungalow, we’d play on the deck until the time when Dad’s ferry was due to arrive at the dock at Kennedy’s Bar & Grill on the bay.
He’d take the BMT from the city to Sheepshead Bay, then hop on the ferry for the 10-minute ride. My sister and I would hook our dog to the handle of our wood Red Flyer and have him drag us and the wagon the two blocks to the pier.
In those days, there was a little shack at the end of the pier. My older cousin and his friends would dive from its roof just as the ferry pulled in, and the dads who were on it would toss coins for the boys.
Around 5, if we were still at the Surf Club, the call would go out, the moms would pack up the cars and away we’d go back to Flatbush. We’d pass the old Fort on the ocean that in ’62 saw its long-range cannons, which once protected New York Harbor, removed and replaced with Cold War missiles.
The Chevy could fit nine — 12 when the cousins were around. It was fitted with a seat belt: my mom’s arm thrown across our bodies when some “. . . idiot!” would wander into our lane.
The rear-facing seat, which would be frowned upon now, helped us make the most awful gestures and faces a 9-year-old could at friends and their mothers as they followed the same path back to Brooklyn.
And the rusted hole in the Chevy’s floor was large enough that when we’d drive across the Marine Park Bridge — never the Gil Hodges, its rightful name, even though he was a neighbor on E. 32nd St. — you could see the blue-green waters of the bay below between the grates.
Sand in every crevice of our bodies and the car, we rode: past the golf course, past the seafood house, past McBurney’s Boat Yard at Ave. U where a Chinese “junk” and the Viking long boat from those Leif cigar commercials were moored.
All summer long, it was bliss.
Then there would come a night when, instead of pulling up into our driveway, we’d look up from the back of the car and see that the moms were parking at the Ideal Department Store on Flatbush Ave.
My heart would sink. All our hearts would.
It meant that we, along with many, many other sad souls, would be going into Ideal to get measured for our Catholic school uniforms.
It meant two crisp, white, polyester shirts with “OLHC” (Our Lady Help of Christians) embroidered in a crest on the pocket of the shirt.
It meant being poked, prodded and pinned by Abie the tailor, with a mouthful of pins.
It meant two pairs of hot, itchy, Navy blue pants with a baby-blue piping down the side of the legs of the pants.
It meant a tight pair of shoes. It meant thick wool socks.
It meant summer was over.