Dan recalls memories of a good marina that became a second home.
Nestled inside a 111-acre park on the edge of a suburban town on the South Shore of Long Island, Wantagh Park Marina is but a small piece of a large, town-run operation. There’s a huge pool with a splash pad and water slides, miles of bike trails, tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds, mini golf, ice cream trucks, BBQ stations, baseball fields, a boat ramp and a fishing pier.
It was the only home port for our family boats that I can recall, and it spoiled me right out of the gate. We were closer with our neighbors on the dock than anyone on our actual block. Card games and cans of soda with the old-timers filled countless summer afternoons when my brother and I were young.
Most years, our spring and summer routine was as consistent as the sunrise. On Friday evening, after my dad came home from work, we’d eat a quick dinner then grab our backpacks and pile into the truck for the short drive down to the marina. We’d live on the boat and in the park until the sun began to set on Sunday.
As we grew older, my brother and I were usually in a constant state of motion. We’d seamlessly shift from a dinghy ride to bike riding and swimming in a strange, sugar-fueled triathlon that only kids could enjoy.
The marina was only 2.5 miles from our house, but during those summers it felt like our two homes were worlds apart. I realize now that was probably my parent’s goal all along. I give them a lot of credit for having the foresight to fight to get into that marina nearly three decades ago. And not because of the pool and the ball fields and the bike paths—those things were great, but they’re not what made our little marina special. What made it special was the people, the friends we made on those worn wooden docks.
We used to refer to our friends on the dock as our second family. Only now do I realize how apt that metaphor was. Together we mourned the loss of neighbors who passed away and celebrated weddings and births. We’d cry together and laugh until our cheeks hurt. It was a special way to grow up; I’ll do my best to raise Connor in a similar environment.
My parents recently retired from their longtime careers and are learning how to navigate the uncharted waters ahead. Now that they’ve moved further east on Long Island, they made the logical decision to bring the boat east with them. When they sold my childhood home, it was strange, but I didn’t really feel any pull of nostalgia. I didn’t shed a tear for long-lost Christmas mornings or family parties. My in-laws live close to that house so it’s likely I’ll bring Connor by one day when he’s older, but I don’t think I’ll ever bother the new owner for a look inside; my memories don’t live there anymore.
I’ll likely just point the house out on our way to Wantagh Park where I’ll bore him with stories from a happy childhood, a time when, “back in my day, we didn’t even have iPads.” I’ll watch him run his energy out at the playground and then recharge it with ice cream. We’ll ride our bikes until he really starts complaining, and I’ll hold his hand as we stroll down F, D and C docks—that’s where most of my fondest memories live. In a few more years, there likely won’t be many people left who remember my brother and me as the kids who would tear through their dockside cocktail party with bikes or scooters, shoveling mini hot dogs into our mouths as we passed.
I’ll think of those brothers as I hold the hand of my own little ball of energy. I’ll visit the ghosts of friends and neighbors past as we walk out to the end of the dock where I used to fish for snapper. And on our way back to the car I’ll have to fight the urge to say to a stranger what I’ve said so many times before when leaving on a Sunday: “See you next weekend.”