Thursday, March 23, 2017

There Then

     In the many times I’ve returned to Ocean City since the summer of 1969 when I worked there as a desk clerk, I never had the urge to revisit the hotel and reflect on back then. As much as the idea of working at the beach might be romanticized, it was an unhappy time in my life when I felt cut loose from everything that made me feel secure. On this visit the doors of memory were flung open by the fact that from my chair in a restaurant across the street I found myself facing the attic window where I lived that summer. Looking at it over a period of time let the memories build and deepen, images of the other girls that worked there and lived in the same attic dormitory. We would sit by the fan in that window because everywhere else in the attic was stifling. The hotel was not air-conditioned then and the attic was the worst. Thinking about the music we played and roaming on the boardwalk late at night shifted my inclinations toward the sensations of then and the next morning I decided I’d walk over and peek in the lobby.
     A woman was standing on the broad porch where the rocking chairs were once lined up. Not wanting to worry her when I approached I called out to ask if it was open. She shook her head no but I kept walking up the stairs saying. “I worked here in 1969. Do you mind if I peek in and see what it looks like now?”
     She shrugged and backed off, a woman with very dark skin and very purple hair, she wasn’t sure what to make of me. Enjoying my role as old timer with stories from before she was born, I looked in the front window and immediately saw what I went on to tell her, a moment in history I hadn’t thought about in years.
    “I saw the first man step on the moon right there.” And pointed to the front corner of the lobby. “I stood right behind that counter and watched it on the only television in the whole hotel. People from all over the boardwalk had crowded in with the hotel guests to see it. And when it happened everybody cheered. It was a moment everybody felt together in a national achievement. My heart pumps faster now when I go there in my mind, see the grainy back and white picture, me standing on a chair so I could see over the crowd. Because going to the places in life’s picture reignites the experience with the feelings. I must have been smiling the smile of there and then because the woman was smiling and nodding with me.

     I felt really good when I headed back to my hotel, so many things I hadn’t thought about in years, how the events from history weave into the personal tapestry and the richness of detail that could be tapped at each location. With time’s distance, my loneliness that summer was an abstraction I no longer felt, eclipsed by the shared moment just so recently reinforced.

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