Eve Marx/For Seaside Signal
One of the very first things that helped me fall in love with Seaside were the swings on the beach. I know swings seem a very ordinary thing, but when I see them, I get excited. As a somewhat solitary and independent child growing up in a beach town on the mid-Atlantic coast, the one made famous by the Monopoly game, I put in a lot of time on swings. You could say swings were an essential element in my developing nature.
Unlike Seaside, there weren’t any swings available to the public on my childhood beach. The swings I frequented, often daily, were situated on the playground area of a small residential hospital called The Children’s Seashore House. The Children’s Seashore House was founded in 1872 as a first-of-its kind seaside hospital, funded by endowments and trusts from wealthy families from Philadelphia who saw the benefits of sea air for their own ailing children. One of these early patrons read a book written by a French physician who advocated “marine medication” as a cure for childhood illness. The irony of the experience of the swings at the Children’s Seashore House was that the children who lived inside the house were far too sick to swing, or even go outdoors themselves. My friends and I sometimes glimpsed them when their caregivers wheeled their hospital beds and wheelchairs up on to the boardwalk. Most of them were recumbent, seemingly incapable of much movement. It was the 1960’s and these were children suffering from cancer, leukemia, Muscular Dystrophy, polio. The one time I got up the nerve to ask my mother about these children, her face clouded over. “Most of them will never leave that place” she said, grimly.
Meanwhile, my best friend Claudia and I made good use of those swings. The Seashore House was built right up on to the boardwalk. The front yard, as it was, was sand. For some reason we were never worried that the staff of the Seashore House would chase us away. Even though we were quite young, we sensed our presence was viewed with favor. The Seashore House staff and residents could plainly see us using the swings through the huge plate glass windows that fronted the physical building. Our joy was evident. As soon as I jumped on my swing, I kicked off the red Keds slip-ons I wore whenever I wasn’t in school, giving my bare feet the freedom to flex and point, helping me soar higher and higher. Claudia was a daredevil, always attempting to loop the loop or whatever it was called when you flew your swing (with you on it) over the top bar. When we were good and lightheaded from our flying adventures, we’d leap off our swings midair, falling to the sand, laughing wildly.
In Venice Beach, California, where we lived for a time in the late ’80s, there were public beach swings, but there were also rats and scary-looking beach vagrants. I had a small child by then and as much as I wished to take him to play on the beach, it wasn’t really safe in Venice. It wasn’t uncommon to find used syringes littering any play area. This was very disappointing to me as I longed to swing again and expose my young child to the pleasure.
This morning, on one of the rare days we had sun, I walked little Lucy the min-pin down to the beach to survey the swings a half mile south of Broadway and The Prom. I had a 12 oz. latte from the excellent Pacific Pearl Bistro on Broadway in hand. The shop, which has been open about a year, features Sleepy Monk coffee from Cannon Beach, which is spectacular. For a few minutes we were completely alone. The dull roar of the ocean and the calling of gulls were the only sounds. I thought about tying the dog up to a railing and jumping on a swing, but then two groups of adults approached and I chickened out, feeling embarrassed to be a middle aged woman playing on the swings. Walking home, I promised myself I’d do it soon. It’s a goal to fly like that again.