When I was a little girl I was obsessed with counting sand to see how many grains made up Wainscott Beach. I figured, with my six-year-old reasoning, that if I started in the morning, I’d know the answer by afternoon.
My parents wondered what I was up to. Perhaps I was looking for smoothed shards of cobalt or jade-colored sea glass, or a juicy piece of seaweed with air pods that went off like a firecracker when you squeezed them, an iridescent mussel shell, or a piece of driftwood that had a knot like a snake’s eye.
No. I was counting sand.
I got my Cousin Johnny involved when he visited us in the summer with Aunt Annette and Uncle Jack. But he thought it was dumb and preferred jumping through ocean waves with my father. I liked that too. My father would stand close to us to keep our heads above water and deposit us back on the shore. Sitting on the sand, my mother and Aunt Annette were quick to smear icky suntan lotion on us. Aunt Annette wore a one-piece bathing suit like Esther Williams. My mother wore pedal pushers and pearls.
I ran and rolled all over that beach like a tomboy, sand sticking to my suntan lotion. My mother would become alarmed and tell Cousin Johnny to take care of me. But that was ridiculous. Wainscott Beach was my beach, close to my house, nothing there but sand and water. Yet it did have a little hidden attraction—Georgica Pond!
You couldn’t see it from Wainscott Beach. Georgica Pond was down a ways, behind the dunes. But you knew it was there with all its inhabitants, the plovers, gulls, crabs and turtles. We weren’t supposed to put our feet in the murky water, but we did to see if something would snap at us.
Years later when I wrote a biography about my shoe-designing parents, Mabel and Charles Julianelli, I just had to include some of their best summer moments on Wainscott Beach:
Even the ‘naked look’ for evening, winner of the Coty Award, became more naked when Mabel took up sketching on the beach a few blocks from [her house]. It was a wild stretch of dunes and shore, with nothing on it—no lifeguard or cabanas, or colored flags to tell you how rough the ocean was, as on the East Hampton Main Beach…Mabel arrived in pedal pushers, an oversized white shirt and glasses, with pad and pencil. She sketched there whether she was accompanied by Charles, Janie or the whole family; the Azzaritis came from Ohio and the Leydens came from Silver Springs, Maryland. Mama Onorata came from the family home in New Jersey.
“I don’t want us to be remembered for comfort, or proportion, or for containing the foot securely, or for designing a work of art—not any of that,” Mabel told her sister-in-law Annette, sitting beside her on a blanket in the sand. “I want us to be remembered for sex appeal…” Annette made the sign of the cross.
When asked how she invented the “naked look,” whatever she replied at the time, Mabel would always think to herself, her inspiration came from the beach. She had experienced her feet in a new way, slipping easily through the sand, and she wanted to duplicate that released feeling in a shoe.*
East Hampton Main Beach had cabanas and an eatery. The best thing about it, besides the yummy smell of hotdogs and burgers, was the Fourth of July fireworks, when parents hoisted their kids on their shoulders and stood in a ring around the beach.
But what reminds me the most about my childhood antics on the beach is my dog Gina, when she was young, a child like me in a dog’s body, the only Shih Tzu I ever knew who loved the beach. She’d run and roll, dig out a cool seat in the moist sand, and sit, her nose and her ball equally sand-coated. In fact, this memory piece is dedicated to my beach-loving Gina, who died at 15 years old, on February 7, 2013.
* Excerpted from “The Naked Shoe, The Artistry of Mabel Julianelli” (Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd, ACC Editions)