Saint Mary's by-the-Sea actually refers to a non-denominational chapel, built on a spit of land that surrounds my old neighborhood of Black Rock, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Now, people take the title to mean an entire roadway, walkway and seawall that rims the thumb-shaped Rock where it abuts Long Island Sound, Black Rock Harbor and Ash Creek.
|The original chapel--from the Wayback machine.|
My first memories were of the beach. Well, kind of a beach. That little spit where the chapel once stood (allegedly built by a well-to-do local in honor of his widow) was our beach. My mother would trundle my brother and me a good half-mile with all sorts of impedimenta: food, drink, blankets towels, a transistor, you name it. All in a red wagon. Somehow, we fit.
Bathing was a dicey thing. The tide had to be high. We would tiptoe over the rocks into a narrow strand of water between the beach and the swampy terrain of Ash Creek. Sometimes, Mom—bathing cap and all, would brave the waters. She was our float. Even though the channel was never more than three feet deep, Tom and I had our life raft.
The circuit was a great bike ride. Sunday mornings were the best times to collect bottles discarded by weekend revelers. We'd see Coney Island Whitefish too, remnants of intra-vehicle canoodling. I had a vague idea what the nasty things were used for. Oh, I would learn.
When we got older, we'd brave The Current. This was a wider channel off the beach—and a challenging swim—that led to Fabulous Fairfield. And Jennings beach.
We knew we were interlopers. Somehow, the locals did, too. Nonetheless, we'd use the snack bar and ogle Perfect Blonde Fairfield Girls with their seamless tans and skimpier suits.
Summertime evenings spent at The Point. This was the elbow (far left in photo) that adjoined the beach. "Goin' down Saint's?" was the standard query. Dozens of cars would park. Discreet beers, with Bridgeport's finest looking the other way. I smoked my first joint there, peering up at the stars, trying to talk myself into an ersatz high.
|Beach and "The Point" on far left|
Saint's was definitely my sexual primer. A phone number written with eyebrow pencil on an emery board. My hand slipping onto a no-can-touch place on Mary Pat Maloney's blouse. Then a half-hour of explaining it away. I almost lost my virginity there. Wha? Alas, the Volkswagen was too damn small.
Of course, all this has changed. The beach—much larger—has been taken over by Chard-sipping, hand-wringing do-gooders who now call it The Sand Spit Sea Sanctuary or somesuch fancypants moniker. It is evidently the home of the the endangered Blue-tailed, Snot-nosed Petrel. Fun is not allowed. Either are People from the Wrong Side of Town, if the parvenus had their way.
Park police make sure all vehicles are gone by dusk. People ride carbon-fiber bikes, often wearing silly, nut-crunching Tour de Sainte's shorts. Others with Just the Right Shoes walk their flawlessly groomed Schipperkes, tailed by spouses toting biodegradable fecal-disposal bags.
But, to me—and many others—it's still Saint's. A walk or drive around there makes memories erupt.
|The walkway today. Look Ma, no Shih Tzus!|
Once, after arriving home at the inanely named Fairfield Metro—it should be Black Rock—train station, a friend picked me up. Before we got to my destination, she said, "Once around Saint's, Ace?"