Elizabeth "Dick" Conklin Whitbeck (Bukoski) Barclay

by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton

(excerpt from The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani)

September 23, 1992 - late afternoon

                                                                        Smuggler’s Beach, So. Yarmouth

 

Taking my sneakers off at my age is a chore but I do want to feel the sand between my toes. Now that the place isn’t swarmed with tourists, I can enjoy the beach again. Coming here even now the traffic was for the birds, but in the summer the road is like a parking lot. I thought it was bad in the 1970s! Ha!

I barely knew what to do with myself when George died last year. I felt like a ghost, living alone for the first time. But now that I’m back on the Cape, I don’t know what I ever did with him all those years. I love getting in my car whenever I want to and just coming out to the beach, without worrying that George might just go walking off somewhere and forget where he is or leave the stove on or drown himself accidentally in the tub.

 

The salt air and seaweed smell makes me feel gay, and this soft white sand is what I missed so much when we left the Cape. The sea grey blue sea, the sound of a real tide and crashing waves, even the hermit crabs pinching your feet when you walk in the water. The only problem is the jelly fish, but for now I just want to stand here and look out at the rolling water, watch the clouds float by.

 Neither Here Nor There (1990-92) 

Guiding Light.

 

Nirvana.

 

Yankee Frugality Contest.

 

Freedom Plaza.

 

The tide recedes.

Did you have your waiting?

 

I’m on different pills.

The tide recedes.

For every joy that passes, take care.

 

Time in a wheelchair, most of the Cold War world.

 

By the way, I have given you time:

One Mass Every Day of the Year.

 

I’ve tried calling her. I’m waiting for my second first operation, security, and a known track record - my entire life - when we leave the Cape. We did have a house on 15 Touraine Way, remember?

 

A Scud attack on Tel Aviv into the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars.

 

Points like your own washer & dryer – a ravaged Kuwait, Judge Clarence Thomas, 4 police officers in Rodney King, a Socialist Federal Republic of the New State, and she loves it there – everything provided.

 

As for crime, we have plenty here, as you know!

 

For the price of gas, he is failing. The Japanese asset price bubble collapsed.

 

George suffering as a moral cover for an essentially aggressive and self-serving foreign policy, sexual slavery during World War II and a prosperous Japanese economy.

 

PLEASE stay in touch with the Lost Years.

 

Please write or call when you find Love

Nirvana

love you more than I believe.

 

The tide recedes.

The music stops

For every joy.

I love this crisp air, not that crummy Florida humidity - that was just impossible. The beach was hours away from Gainesville, and even there you’d get eaten alive by bugs, not to mention all the young people in their tiny bikinis playing their loud horrible music and being obnoxious. George hated the cold, and he was small, even more so near the end, so we had to move back to Florida - again - while he was alive. A stiff breeze could have sent him into the water!

Not me. I’ve lost a lot of weight, but I’m round and close to the ground. Ha! Now that my cataracts are gone, I can see again, too. What a joy to be able to see again the delicate shades of browns and blacks on the feathers of the pipers scrounging for their food when the water recedes, flying away when it comes back, and the orange beaks of the cawing seagulls trying to get the crabs from the diners at the hotel, the smooth polish of the inside of the oyster shells, the roughness of the clam shells and even little pieces of sea glass glinting in the wet sand when the water recedes.

 

The water on my toes is too cold for swimming but is exhilarating. My heart beats a little faster. If I could pitch a tent and live on the beach, I would. Less housecleaning, that’s for sure!

 

I remember when Mother and Daddy first brought us to Milford Beach when I was a little girl - probably not more than five or so. It was a big outing and one of my first times in a car, too! Bumping along, feeling the breeze. I loved it! But then that first smell of salt air made me squeal with happiness. We had just moved to Seymour, near the Naugatuck River, and the factories made a terrible smell and filled the river with brown foam. In the winter, it froze over in those days so we could skate - at least at the pond. I always preferred winter because of that. The air smelled fresher, and our woolen sweaters kept us warm. I was a good skater, even when I was little, it made me feel free as a bird.

 

But the summers were terrible. No one complained about the pollution in those days because the factories meant jobs, and we didn’t even know what pollution was even though we all hated the smells. We all looked forward to the evenings when the smokestacks stopped belching all that black smoke and sulfur into the air. Did we have a car yet or maybe it was Uncle Sammy who drove us? He had the pharmacy in Salisbury and was always doing better than everyone else. He didn’t give himself airs, though. He did his best to help us all out. Everyone loved Uncle Sam.

 

As soon as we got to the beach, and I saw all that white sand, I ran into the water full tilt. No one could catch me! Mother had dressed Dot and me up in these little outfits she had made us special that were as cute as the dickens, but I didn’t care. I just jumped in the water like I was born to it. Everyone shouting behind me to slow down and wait. Me jumping around in the waves - shocked by the cold of the water but happy as a clam! Mother had told me a story about mermaids once at bedtime, and I decided I was one right then and there. Daddy rushed out to get me. Mother flapping her arms like a helpless duck. She was already too large to run, never mind catch up with the likes of me! My word that woman was as big as a house. I gained weight, too, I suppose, but not to that extent! How she and Daddy managed to make Georgie the next year is beyond me, but the Lord does work in mysterious ways! Or maybe she was still slender then? Memory does play tricks on you at my age.

 

Ward ran in after Daddy and taunted me as Daddy was bringing me in. I was kicking like a banshee, and Daddy was trying to be serious about it all because Mommy was so upset, but I could tell he was laughing inside, a tiny smile on his face. I could tell secretly he was impressed with how strong I was. “Calm down, Dickie,” he said. “You’re going to send me to the hospital!”

 

Ward kept saying “Girls can’t swim! Girls caaaan’t swiiiim!”

 

I cried bitterly and stopped fussing long enough to say, “Yes, they can! Can’t they Daddy. Can’t they?”

 

“Yes,” he said, looking hard at Ward as if trying to will him to stop talking and giving him that if you don’t stop, I’ll smack you look, so Ward shut up. “Yes, they can. You can. Just let Mother get you into your brand new bathing suit so she doesn’t have a cow. OK, Dickie, can you do that for me?”

 

When we were at shore, I stuck my tongue out at Ward when I knew no one else was looking. We weren’t meant to do that kind of thing, and if I was discovered, my mouth could be washed out with soap. That was a fact, and I knew it. Ward tried to get sand on me, but I ran to Mother who was changing Dot’s diaper in the car and said, “I want my bathing suit! I want it now! Phew Dot smells!”

 

She said, “Young lady, I’m busy and you have been a very bad girl so you need to hold your horses and maybe - only maybe - will I put on your bathing suit.”

 

I cried with rage when I watched Ward just strip right down to his underwear in front of everyone and run into the ocean just like that.  “Boys are so lucky! I hate being a girl!”

 

“Elizabeth Whitbeck, you are stretching my last nerve,” said Mother.

 

Daddy swooped in to pick me up, pretending to be angry, but he brought me to a place where I could change and handed me my bathing suit. “You better watch out,” he said, even while he was chuckling. “Your mother’s on the warpath.”

 

I ran out with my suit and went back into the water, flapping around happily.  Daddy came into the water, even as I could hear behind him Mother saying, “Charles Henry Whitbeck what are you doing? You are spoiling that girl rotten! I’m the one who has to live with her all day. For heaven’s sake!” But the water was loud, and she was muffled by the ocean breeze and the sound of the waves. I knew she wouldn’t come into the water. I was safe here.

I like not having to cook. What a chore that was! Now, I just get frozen meals and pop them in the microwave. Heaven! They’re so cheap, it’s worth it, especially with the coupons and the senior discount. What a relief. No more spending the whole day at the oven making roast beef or worrying about the scalloped potatoes. No more string beans. No more endless dishes.

 

This is my favorite time of the day out at the beach, the late afternoon light in September, it almost makes me want to cry, the sharpness of the horizon line, the variation of pinks in the eastern part of the sky, the bursts of oranges to the west and the light to dark aqua-blues in the water. The breeze is gentle on my face and the clouds and me are leaving long shadows on the sand and the ocean.

 

The tide is rolling in now. This sound I miss so much, the last time I could hear it in my home was when we lived on Ranch Road in Milford. We were crazy to leave. We lived there for years, a stone’s throw from the beach, and I could hear the waves crash gently on the beach every night when it got still. That and the fireflies. Sitting on the porch by myself after George and Jimmy were in bed. Just breathing in the sweet smell of the fresh cut lawn and the evening dew at dusk, and hearing the Connecticut Sound, and after the last pinks were gone in the royal blue sky and the night sky surrounded me, looking up at the stars and counting them. Gin Ricky in hand - or sometimes even just a fresh lemonade. Bliss.

I think that may have been one of the happiest day of my life. I remember Daddy showing me how to float on my back in the water and how to doggie paddle. Ward just horsed around and showed off, because he’d been to the beach before with Bobby Spotch, whose family is rich compared to us, so Ward had cultivated that friendship carefully. Little kids know what side their bread is buttered on let me tell you. But as soon as I could float and learned a few strokes, I felt like a fish or even a dolphin. I had never felt so light or clean or breathed so deep.

 

I knew I was home.

I’m too old to run into the water now, and it’s too cold for my bathing suit, but some part of me would love to do it anyway! There’s no one to see. Oh, come on Dickie it’ll be just like you’re 5 again! Oh, but no, I can’t, it would be foolish. No one even knows I’m here and the lifeguards aren’t on duty now. What if I had another stroke? Oh, but so what if you did? Wouldn’t it be worth it? I think I’ll just stand here and enjoy the late afternoon light and remember that day in 1920 or 21 was it? More than 70 years ago? Oh Lordy, I am old. How is it possible I got this old, this fast? It feels like just last year George and I went on our first date - maybe 1932 or 1933 - 60 years ago! It would have been our 55th anniversary in June.

I’m just here by myself now, an old lady with the ocean and the seagulls making a racket, fighting for some food - probably off a fishing boat - and the geese up overhead squawking as they migrate for the winter. There are some young people horsing around down the beach a ways and some late season tourists on the sand in front of the hotel, but mostly it’s just the Atlantic and me. Not the worst thing. Not the worst thing at all.

***

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