Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.
My roots are buried within the deepest blue of the ocean. My paternal grandparents grew up in a small village inland from Southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast. They journeyed for months by boat across the Indian Ocean to reach Australia, and when they arrived, they carved a community along Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. It is to my ancestry that I owe spending each summer of my life by the seaside.
Our tiny weatherboard beach shack in Tootgarook was the perfect marker of an idyllic childhood. It was a slice of 1950s’ ignorance in the midst of my millennial upbringing. The roads, large and sunburnt, were filled with unsupervised barefoot children. The main “shopping strip” consisted only of a chemist, bait and tackle store and surf shop; the milk bar tucked away in the backstreets sold ten-cent lollies. We spent our days wading in the warm water of Port Phillip Bay and chasing the luring siren of Mr. Whippy. With no digital TV and very little reception, we freed the shackles of technology and gathered each night to cook, eat and cheat at cards.
These rituals repeated for a decade. No matter what had happened during the year that preceded, summers were always relied upon as a time to connect and re-connect. There were never expectations—just a slow pace, the sun, the sea and family.
Yet life, as it has its ways of doing, forced progression, particularly when grief swept our family. In their writings on tradition, folklore scholars, Professor Robert Dobler and Daniel Wojcik, noted: “Rituals make boundaries between life and death, the sacred and the profane, memory and experience, permeable. The dead seem less far away and less forgotten. Death itself becomes more natural and familiar.”
When grief trespassed in our family, unforeseen and unwelcomed, it was the beach house that got us through. It offered a familiarity that was cathartic. By comparison, the city was messy and dark and full of pain. Back there, the resentment manifested into anger and denial. And while the emotions did not at all dissipate by the coast, they were tinted with a desire for the peace signified by summer.
During the worst moments of that period, on days when the world seemed to swallow me whole, I roared my grief into the ocean. I walked reflectively along the water’s edge, woke to the stinging salty breeze and stared into the vastness of the deep blue. Somehow, the enormity of the water provided the most comfort—the natural cycle, barefaced and beautiful right before me, demonstrated how life could renew. I pictured my ancestry rise from the horizon. I saw the all-consuming risk of journeying to a foreign land, felt the fear of leaving everything behind and slowly began to heal—the ocean and its perspective was everything I needed.
Together, my family wove a tapestry of memory that returned the support and warmth that had been hijacked. The traditions of summer allowed us to lean on each other. They were familiar and comforting. They gifted clarity and intention. Much like time, busying ourselves in the repetition of tradition forced our progression, and allowed contemplation to begin to recognise the chapter’s end.
Three years on and we continue to return to the beach house each summer. We play mini golf, chase Mr Whippy and eat, drink and cheat at cards. We have added fresh faces now, in the form of partners, family friends and babies, who incorporate their own rituals. Our expanding circle eventually forced a renovation of the tiny weatherboard shack. We added a couple of rooms, and a deck. Summer feels a little different now, yet our growth will always be formed on the foundations of our collective past. Our shared traditions and memories embedded within the old house. A place to renew, re-connect and remember.
I can see my grief wading in the water, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep. But I remember the ocean holds my roots, and it feels like a welcoming home.