By Joanna Dellaripa Rosenberg
One of my favorite places to visit while growing up was Warm Sands Beach in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Actually, the real name of the beach is Soundview, but I always thought Warm Sands was a more appropriate name. While it was only a forty-five minute drive from Hartford depending on traffic, we might as well have been traveling to another country. Prior to the age of nine, I had not taken a trip out of the state, so driving to coastal Connecticut was a special occasion that formed a series of memories during this relatively mundane period of my life.
Without my mother needing to announce our plans, I always knew we would be heading to the beach that day when I woke up to the sound of ice being pushed out of the freezer trays she masterfully manipulated. Our cooler pre-dated the modern Igloo style we know today, so instead of having the typical rectangular block shape, it resembled a small beer barrel. My mother would then make meatball grinders, or a variation of turkey or ham with provolone cheese on Italian sandwich rolls. We grabbed our towels, chairs, and inflatable raft and off we went motoring down 91 South to Route 9. As we drove away from the concrete neighborhood of the southwest end of Hartford, the road opened up to show trees, cliffs, and waterways that would lead us to the coast. I always knew we were getting close when we approached the steel drawbridge that looked like a roller coaster over the Connecticut River, which I later learned was called the Arrigoni Bridge, named after a state politician from the 1930s.
Our relatives on my father’s side had homes near the beach, so we were lucky to have free parking, and a place to visit and play before our day in the sun commenced. I remember the point where the hot sidewalk on Hartford Avenue ended and the sand began, allowing me to take off my flip flops or Dr. Scholl’s clogs. Warm Sands itself wasn’t the most striking in terms of landscape, but it had all the amenities to create the perfect day for a kid. Since the beach was on the coast of Long Island Sound rather than on the Atlantic directly, we didn’t fear large waves overtaking us while we waded, floated, and rafted. The sand had the right level of moisture for me to attempt my best efforts at sandcastle-making using beach buckets and shovels with Coppertone 4 lotion standing by earnestly to protect me from the sun.
When it was time for a break, we would walk down to Vecchito’s Italian Ice. The line under the awning was always brisk where I always eagerly awaited my favorite Watermelon flavor being handed to me. The taste of the sweet ice was the perfect contrast to the salt that permeated my lips and skin. At other times I would walk up and down the beach dodging any sharp rock or nagging seaweed that made their appearance at that moment. There was a large house off in the distance that stood as a beacon at the edge of the coastline. I never knew who lived there or any other details about the house, but it reminded me of an inn often depicted in movies about seafarers and pirates of long ago.
I’d often return to Warm Sands throughout my high school years and occasionally during summers during college, but the trips became less about family and atmosphere and more about spending time with my friends and scoping the scene to see if anyone we knew from Hartford was there that day.
My great uncle was in his late 80s when he passed away. He died suddenly while chopping wood at the beach house. He experienced no suffering while he was doing what he loved. The families in general began to disperse as children grew older and moved on and the elders continued to age.
I returned once more to Warms Sands Beach with my childhood friends during my 20s. My relatives were no longer living there, so we parked in a metered spot. Motorcycle enthusiasts took over the scene. The sand was full of cigarette butts. The large house on the edge of the coast now just looked like any typical beach house. It no longer whisked me away to another place and time.
By the time I returned to Warm Sands as an adult, I had traveled out of state and out of the country. I had seen more beautiful beaches. But Warm Sands still represents a time when family members and early childhood friends were stable fixtures I’d return to summer after summer.
Joanna Dellaripa Rosenberg is a member of Follow Your Art Community Studios. She started this piece in one of FYACS’s monthly creative writing sessions.