Friday, August 11, 2006
World's Finest & Safest Bathing Beach
Danny DeLuca (pictured right Wildwood 2006) is alive and well. He is eighty-five and still full of the "piss and vinegar" that defined his eighteen year old self. He hates George Bush. He is a bigot. He likes his 'farm', a 10x20 garden behind his home. He likes Budweiser beer and dark red Italian wine. He is mentally sharp, extremely verbose and horribly stubborn. He has not changed since my earliest memory of him. Many of those memories are not pleasant. One could not live peacefully with Danny and express any desire that was not similar to his own. I chose freedom of speech over peaceful coexistence. I was the daughter he would later describe as a "wolf" and both he and I would be proud of that description. There was one place where we found common ground and that in a place where the ground no longer existed. In the ocean. Here I didn't need to beg for attention by saying things to purposefully evoke his ire. I didn't need to make witty remarks to prove that I too was 'sharp'. I just needed to be brave and follow him deep into the surf, nearly to the place where the dolphins swam by in the late afternoon. My dad was physically smaller than my full grown self would eventually become. He was an inch or so over five feet and weighed less than 125 pounds. He was fit from years of working in construction and stronger than you'd expect from someone of his stature. His voice was huge and when he yelled the sound of his voice would carry down the alleyway across the blocks of our neighborhood. Even big men stayed away when Danny was angry. Danny was angry a lot. But never when he swam. He was a strong swimmer, diving into the waves and swimming along the beachline. He was an old dad too, in his mid-forties but with a youthful enthusiasm that when considered against his size fooled strangers into believing that he was much younger. Our yearly treks to Wildwood were his favorite time of year. For a week every year he would be happy. A deep happiness that made him seem vulnerable and made me realize that his usual anger was just a thin veil to keep that vulnerability in check. He was a World War II vet, goddammit, and wasn't afraid of anything. Swimming out deep one day, trying to catch a good wave before the lifeguards called us in, we got caught in a riptide. We had been in these before and I knew not to struggle but to swim along the shoreline. We both swam and soon the waves pushed us in closer, albeit further down the beach nearly to the next lifeguard stand. Walking back to our place on the beach where my mother nervously scanned the ocean, I asked Dad what I should do of I got pulled out to sea. My ten year old mind imagined being pulled to the horizon. He told me to look for the dolphins and grab onto their fins and they would take me back to the surf. This thought delighted me. Riding on the back of those wonderful creatures as they dove rhythmically into the sea. Bringing me back to the World's Finest & Safest Bathing Beach.