August 14, 2011

A Ghost in the Dunes

In the second tier at the Nikon Theatre at Jones Beach, I settled into my seat for the big concert. My wife and I took our kids to see My Chemical Romance and Blink 182 for the Tenth Anniversary Honda Civic Tour. Though it was quite a while since I attended a show at this arena, I have a long history at Jones Beach State Park.

My father was a World War II veteran who worked for the Brooklyn Navy Yard for twenty years. Upon his retirement, he got a job with the now-defunct Long Island State Park Commission. He spent his time traveling back and forth between Robert Moses State Park, Captree, and Jones Beach. During summer, he’d take my brothers and sisters and I to any one of the fields at Robert Moses and leave us while he went about his duties. I was the fifth child out of six, and my older sister was well-equipped to keep a careful eye on us younger ones while we splashed around in the waves.

It was comforting to see Dad stop by in one of the park vehicles to check on us. He’d have a worried expression on his face, wondering if we were having a good time and if there was any danger leaving us alone. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we visited our summertime paradise, a tradition was born.

I remember riding with Dad in a green, state-owned truck as he went about his routine. He seemed important wherever he went, and he loved what he did immensely. It was the environment, the ocean and the dunes, which made him inhale deeply and smile as he scanned the horizon. I always sensed that he felt lucky to be so close to nature and to visit such a beautiful place each day. As he was not a wealthy man, his appreciation for the parks is his legacy for his family.

My wife and I make it a point to take our kids to the beach in the warm months. During winter, we eat bagels and drink coffee and juice while watching wild deer from inside our parked car at Robert Moses. When friends are in town, I bring them on a tour of the area, and I convey what I know about each location as I recall what my dad taught me. The iconic water towers, the lengthy bridges, the bath houses, all fell under his purview. My father helped maintain these landmarks. His fingers touched steel beams and stone which tens of thousands see each day during summer.

All that was part of my childhood is present still , even after my father’s passing. The striped umbrellas, boardwalks, concession stands, saltwater taffy, and the ampitheater are as enduring as my precious, early memories. As I sat in the fold-down seat at the Nikon Theatre last Saturday with my family, I was host to a stadium full of strangers. My life took root at this very place. In the waters to my left, boaters awaited a musical performance. Overhead, clouds winked with a suggestion of rain, and to my right, beachgoers bid farwell to the sand and the ocean for the evening.

I sat back and imagined that among the wavy crests of sand dunes, in the inky shadows stretching wide, my father was smiling, and at home in the park he loved so dearly.

By Michael J. Kannengieser

Photo by M.J. Kannengieser

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