Beach Flags

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 8:00pm

It felt like an exceedingly long afternoon, stretching out forever, like the prospect of summer in late June. It is almost September and I know the sun is setting earlier each day but it felt as though time was almost standing still. 

It was, almost. The batteries in the clock on the living room wall are fading, which I know when it is off by hours, as it was last night, but the hands keep creeping and its slow movement suited my lazy afternoon purposes until Autumn started fussing and I realized the ding I had heard an hour earlier was her dinner bell.

The clock was well over an hour late. The sun was so low because it was well after six, not the five fifteen I imagined it to be.

It was cooling down, heading back toward another good sleeping night after a bout of warmth in the sunny afternoon. It was quiet, as well, less windy than it has been in a while, less rustle of leaves as well as less ambient traffic rumble even on Mansion Road although I had met several cars, departing earlier than usual.

For all of the craziness of the summer traffic it seems, now that things are slowing down in this last week before an early Labor Day, I am encountering more cars whose drivers think Mansion is a two lane highway turning off Corn Neck and that the red STOP sign at the corner is optional. I have more than once of late stopped, safely in my own road, to be sure it is still in place.

We did not grow up with street lights, but we somehow always seemed to know they existed over on the distant mainland, and green meant go, red meant stop, as in these octagonal signs, and yellow, yellow was always sort of a mystery. Later I heard it defined in a multitude of ways but rarely the truest, slow down because the light is soon going to turn red.

Even the flags at the State Pavilion were more a curiosity, it was not a place we went when we were little, when my mother had no vehicle and Mansion Beach, then privately owned, was just across the front field and through the neighbors' barnyard. It was a little adventure, all those ducks and geese when we had only hens, and an older lady, often in her chaise, I am sure my mother enjoyed visiting.

The time we spent at the beach was probably much shorter than it seemed, from well after lunch until the boat, the little white Nelseco II, passed by on its way home to Providence via Newport. We only drove by the quite mysterious pavilion on our late afternoon trip to the Post Office and market. My mother might remark if a flag was flying, a red banner that meant no one was allowed in the ocean, or a yellow, indicating exercise caution.

She liked to follow the weather, insisting on listening to Boston for long term forecasts, because WBZ had the best weatherman, a real meteorologist. “Let's just see what Don Kent has to say” was her go-to when Providence seemed to provide a less comprehensive analysis than she wanted. Often the sight of one of those banners elicited some comment on the conditions at Mansion, or the reason we had not gone to the beach at all that day.

The wind has been hard out of the east, roiling the surf, creating ledges of sand, leaving a narrow strip of beach that made the blue umbrellas crowded together this afternoon appear from the road greater in number than there were in fact. When I'd gone out around noon there seemed to be more bicyclists than ever on the road, but it was cool, yet, and I presumed the scarcity of cars in the pavilion parking lot had more to do with the temperature than the yellow flag flying against the bright blue building.

There were many more cars, more of a summer day look, when I came home, just a few hours later.

It feels more like the first week in September when Labor Day is as late as it can be than the last week in August. The pace in town has shifted, on at least one map we were the warmest place in the area with 60 early this morning. And schools are starting earlier; I have to wonder if the heightened craziness we have always experienced the second month of full summer has been intensified by these openings back-tracking like some great excavator chewing up what used to be free days of August.

A chance comment led me to information that there are — or were — laws in some mid-Southern states, with the odd name Kings Dominion, a reference not to history, rather amusement parks. School was not to start until after Labor Day. It seemed to have been an attempt at stabilizing tourism but wide-spread waivers were granted and it appears the laws have been, or soon will be, repealed.

Years ago, Labor Day was a last big weekend but it was the Tuesday after the holiday that we used to see the boat off, when so many of the folks who came for so much of the summer were heading home to start school on Wednesday, as one woman around my age put it “with sand in my shoes and salt in my braids.”

It has gotten cool, again. There is only the slightest breeze and I can hear the grumble of the surf on the beach to the east, that little curve when the Clay Head Trail empties onto the shore. Perhaps it is unhappy with the prospect of impending fall.

It is the week before Labor Day, I suppose I should go look at NOAA, my own version of Don Kent, and see what is in store for the upcoming holiday weekend, after this extraordinarily good-once-it-started weather summer.