When my children were little, I discovered a beach in Maine. In the early 2000’s the beach was already well known by locals and summer visitors and already under the care of the state park department, but the facilities were rustic. In plain English: primitive. Over the years, Popham Beach has not only become a favorite destination for beachgoers but has also revamped its looks. Now bathrooms flush and changing rooms have taken over the bushes where I remember hiding before being caught switching from my bathing suit to my shorts and T-shirt.
Nostalgia is an easy feeling that tends to color our memories in pastel colors. Yet these days – not so far back – remind me of a beginner writer.
I had no laptop, no tablet, no smart phone. Internet access was limited to urban areas and cell phone coverage spotty on the beach. But I had my notebook and a few pens. And I wrote. A lot.
My very first novel – never published, although considered by a few supportive editors – started at Popham Beach. The first draft was written there, over the course of one summer.
While I had to watch my children to make sure they wouldn’t go in the water without asking me first, I trusted my oldest to look after their younger siblings. Mine – as most kids from larger families – stayed in a tight cluster, permanently entertained by each other. Mothers always remember the color of their kids’ clothes, and I could easily spot my daughters and son as they played on the blonde sand. Their red, blue and yellow pails and beach toys matched the sea kayaks bobbing on the ocean.
Meanwhile my fingers got cramps as I wrote like there was no tomorrow.
Every now and then I would call my children’s names, and the four of them would turn their heads in unison toward the sound of my voice. Smiles stretched on their tanned faces, and they waved in response to my call.
Then I would return to my fictional characters while the real people of my real life would go on with their make-believe games.
Today I took my youngest daughter, her friend, and my son to Popham Beach.
In my beach bag, I threw the Maine must-haves – sunscreen, insect repellent, after-sun lotion – but left my laptop, my tablet, and my phone behind, bringing instead some loose binder paper, a pen, and a book.
The tide was at its lowest when we arrived. Infinity stretched ahead of me, an invitation to endless possibilities.
I took a long walk to the rocks, which at high tide become an island. I used to climb these rocks, my son’s small hand clutching mine until he let go at the sight of a tide pool that held the magical power to delight him for hours.
On my memory tour, I spotted many tide pools and also three artists, painting in the shade of the large brim of their hats. I saw one woman writing postcards and another bent over a notebook.
And I saw countless readers.
The tide wouldn’t be high until much later. Plenty of time to finish the book I started last night.
Instead I retrieved my stack of paper and my pen.
P.S. Complimentary pictures from my beach companions – unlike me they never leave their phones behind.