For those who are familiar with Brooklyn and Queens, New York, Daniela Kanz offers a fascinating description of Jones Beach in the summertime and the all-day trek required to get there. Live musicians played for the water ballet show in the bay. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.
By Daniela Kanz
My interest in the Summer Olympics mainly evolved from my enjoyment of synchronized swimming.
One of my all-time favorite movie stars as a child was Esther Williams in the aqua-musical Million Dollar Mermaid (the 1952 biographical movie about Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman).
This movie led to my love of swimming and eventually water ballet. I have borrowed the DVD from the library several times to enjoy watching it yet again.
Esther Williams was an advisor to the International Olympic Committee at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for the new sport of synchronized swimming. Not only was Esther Williams a film star, she was a businesswoman – being first to endorse a product – swimwear. She later was involved in selling swimming pools.
I became enchanted with water ballet before I knew about America’s Mermaid, as Esther Williams was nicknamed. I have fond memories of the water ballet shows put on at Jones Beach out on Long Island, New York. Going to the beach from Jackson Heights without a car was quite a journey. My Dad and I would take a bus to the subway to the Long Island Railroad, and then another bus to the beach. It seemed like we would never get there to this ten-year old.
I fondly remember my Dad playing the Why Game with me to help pass the travel time. He would mention something, and I would respond “Why?” – And he would come up with another answer and I again would reply
It never ceased to amaze me how far and how long he could play this game without running out of things to tell me. My memory does not serve me well enough to tell you what some of these tales were, but I can still feel that amazement and wonder that this interaction with my Dad provided.
Once we arrived at Jones Beach, the first stop was to the umbrella rental stand. My Dad felt we needed that protection from the sun.
Then I would finally be allowed to get in the water with the admonishment – You must come out when your fingertips start to shrivel. He also went in the ocean water a few times and only did the breaststroke. He never did the crawl stroke the way I learned to swim.
Jones Beach has a boardwalk with many vendors. Every time I eat pizza, I think about the time my poor Dad burned his lips so badly with some melting cheese from a slice of pizza we had purchased on the boardwalk.
I also recall being amazed at his eating clams on the half shell with just a bit of lemon juice squeezed on them. I refused to try them when he offered some to me. I have since tried them and can tolerate this delicacy, but just as soon pass when offered.
One of the best things about Jones Beach was not only the ocean to swim in and that wonderful clean white sand to play in – there was also a swimming pool and the very odd thing was that the pool was filled with salty seawater rather than chlorinated water.
When evening came, the best was yet to come - the water ballet show in the bay. There was huge stadium seating in a horseshoe around the water and several feet across the water was a stage with a live band to accompany the water ballet performers.
After the show, it was all I could do to get to the bus with my Dad. I slept on the bus – was awakened to get on the train – was awakened again to get on the subway – and awakened yet again to get on the last bus to our street. I struggled to the house from the last bus stop and was asleep before my head hit the pillow dreaming about being a water ballet artist one day.
Super Storm Sandy hit my beloved Jones Beach hard in October of 2012, but the needed repairs were complete by May of 2013. Maybe one day I shall return.
For those who would like to see Esther William, there is an interview available on YouTube. In November 2007 Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer interviewed her childhood hero Esther Williams and both spent time in the pool together.