When I acquired rights to South Beach back in the 1950's it was a dangerous place. The huge waves rolling onto the beach, one after the other, were known to call out to young boys like me. This is no word of lie; I heard them with my own ears,
"Come on, young man, just get your toes wet a little. Let your feet slowly sink into the soft tan sand until it has wrapped around your ankles. Then lift your feet out and move farther in towards the waves. Don't listen to your parents' warnings about an undertow...the water loves you. It's obvious you love it too. Come on, you can do it! Don't be a chicken!"
My parents were smart enough to prevent me from
succumbing to the Siren's song issued by the waves at South Beach. For one thing, we always visited in the evening when oncoming dusk would limit our time spent here. And for another thing our uniform was a pair of shorts or dungarees rolled up to our knees. No bathing suits. No swimming. No jumping the waves. Way too dangerous! Our swimming trunks would have been at home drying on the clothesline after real swimming took place in kinder and gentler waters at State Beach on Nantucket Sound. No waves there, just ripples that you couldn't call waves and you could hardly even hear as they softly lapped against the shore.
The other dangerous aspect about South Beach then was it had
only been about ten years since World War II had ended and there were physical reminders of defensive war preparations taken on the beach. Large cavernous cement gun revetments had been constructed in the dunes. The guns were long gone, of course, but that didn't stop my imagination from picturing artillery positioned to fire shells horizontally out toward U-boats threatening the island. And as dusk settled over South Beach and I looked out over those huge rolling waves getting darker and if I stared hard enough I wondered if perhaps I was looking at the conning tower of a submarine or was it just the darkening shadows playing tricks on my eyes? It was scary if you thought about it and therein lies the danger; imaginary perhaps but nevertheless an exciting and delicious combat fantasy for a young boy to feast on.
Each time I return to South Beach I look for those revetments and wonder how it is that something so huge and indestructible could have vanished without a trace. There were at least two of them in the dunes and perhaps more if you walked west on the beach. Unlike today there were no "keep out" signs or restrictions on how far you wanted to walk down the beach. The only barriers were my nervous parents that wanted to make sure we headed back to our car before it got dark. And more often than not the beach was deserted on our evening visits. That solitude and many other characteristics of South Beach have changed over the years but so does everything else. Nothing stays the same, not us, not nations, not technology, and certainly not beaches.
But that's ok. It's life. It's the way of the world. And even with the changes I can still use my imagination. I can close my eyes and hear the waves pounding the shore and know that they will keep on doing that forever. And then I can slowly open my eyes again just barely enough to squint out over the water towards the horizon in search of U-boats. And be prepared to protect my beach. My very own beach. South Beach on Martha's Vineyard Island.
My South Beach