Tuesday, June 19, 2012


By: Victoria Beck

I’m not sure we worshipped the beach, but that’s where we were on Sunday mornings. We traveled from South Miami to South Miami Beach. If I was lucky, I got the middle seat of the three-seat station wagon all to myself - and I could stretch out and read during the hour long trek to the ocean. I remember reading Cheaper By the Dozen during those trips.

We had to leave fairly early in the morning, because my dad and younger sister were redheads, with very fair skin. We always left the beach before noon, just as the crowds were arriving.

The first stop was always Royal Castle, for donuts. This was long before the drive thru restaurant was on every corner - my dad took down our orders on a scrap of paper, went Inside, and we waited. Sometimes it took more than a few minutes to get everyone’s preferences noted correctly. I always got jelly filled donuts or cinnamon twists. Dad always got the traditional powdered sugar coated. My sisters changed their orders every week, creating the delay. Dad always forgot to get extra napkins.

When we finally reached the beach, everyone piled out and helped carry the blankets, umbrella, towels, snorkels, beach buckets and toys. Apparently, for others, the beach requires a lot of paraphenalia. It slowed down the walk to the water, which was extremely annoying. All I needed was the ocean itself.

South Beach was not a trendy spot back then. The streets were lined with old hotels and rooming houses.  The beach was home for elderly Jewish men and women, many of them from New York. Mom said we were a curiosity - not just the only children on the beach - the only Gentiles.

Miami Beach sand is tan and soft - it squishes and moves with you - not very easy to navigate through on crutches. So I would push down with my shoulders, arms and wrists as hard as I could - every step seemed unsure - I couldn’t find anything solid - getting to the water’s edge was hard work - but I don’t ever remember falling.

I would wade out to water that was about knee high, and then just settle into the water - the water took over the effort of balance for me. My dad would take my crutches back to the dry safety of the blanket, and I would rest in the buoyant water, usually for hours. If I did want to come out before time to head home, no one was prepared. No one expected me to leave the water - and it took a lot of hollering and arm waving to get anyone’s attention.

Marilyn was busy building sand castles, or was out in deeper water with her fins and snorkel. Kelly was chasing the beach birds, and she was too little to help anyway. My parents were there - lost in the powerful quiet of watching the ocean.

Far easier and quieter to stay in the water.

Sometimes the water was as gray and smooth as slate - I could just float - with my bent knees bobbing in the gentle water and the warm Miami sun toasting my face.

Other days, the water was green with foamy, churning waves, the swimmers bobbing in between, or over and under their rhythmic explosions. I couldn’t float or swim with the waves, and was warned to stay close to shore. Still, I would bounce in the water, buffeted by water and scrubbed by the sand, until made to come out.

Many years later, I’ve heard and read that people with disabilities love the water, because of its power to carry us. All of us can move with grace, speed and beauty in the water. The ability to float is, quite simply, miraculous.

My dad often talked about the healing power of the ocean - but he was talking about clearing out your sinuses with the salt water.

I don’t know why I love the ocean - I don’t know if it has anything at all to do with disability. My parents met on the beach, lived near the beach when they were first married, and made treks to the beach a family tradition - until we moved to Tampa when I was 12.

On the west coast, we still sought out the beach - but nothing was the same. The sand was white, or gray, and hard. The water was the wrong shade of blue. The beach itself seemed too small, too crowded. We never adjusted to or accepted the central west coast beaches, and our trips became sporadic and irregular.

Still, the ocean remains significant to me.

And although the trips may now be years apart, they are nearly sacred journeys.

I returned to South Beach in 1990 to say goodbye to my dad. I left his ashes and my tears there late one night shortly after his death that September. As a child, I never saw the beach after dark. The water is blue black. I wished it was ink so I could write all the words of thanks that I had been too busy or too selfish or too angry to say to him.

I still seek the ocean when my soul aches; I expect I always will. These days I watch the water from my wheelchair. It’s almost enough.

-Victoria Beck was born with cerebral palsy. She is a former reporter for The Tampa Tribune, where she covered religion and disability issues. Currently, she is a Senior Editor and Writer for Shriners Hospitals for Children. She is also my mother and has spent much of her life devoted to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, your mother must be a very special lady to you. I loved reading her story and I think there is something in it for which most everyone can relate.
    Thank you for sharing her story.