Being born in Brownsville, Texas, I can remember lying in the back seat of our ancient car as we approached Boca Chica (Pretty Mouth). The crashing of the waves simultaneously lulled and called to me.
“How much longer ‘til we get there?”
This was sure to bring on an angry answer, since evidently I asked this question every few minutes. But, oh, when we did arrive…the pure ecstasy of running into those cool little waves of our little piece of the great Atlantic Ocean.
Later our family lived for two years in Freeport, Texas, only a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico, in a vacation house built high above the sands for protection from the occasional hurricane. My father worked with the engineers as they built the Intracoastal Canal. He brought home rattlesnake rattlers to contribute to a growing collection. It was wartime then, and there were few vacationers, but the Navy men were a constant presence, patrolling that beach day and night accompanied by their trained German Shepard friends.
In the summertime, my sister and I spent most of our waking hours playing in the pure clean sand, finding treasures as they washed ashore, building huge playhouses, and running into that great bay of water to wash off the sand before coming into the house. Naturally, however, our feet brought in the sand, there were grains of sand in our beds and food. These years were two of the most memorable of my long lifetime.
At the end of two years, we moved to another small town, Port ‘O Connor, nestled next to an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. This time, the surf held unseen dangers, and my sister and I had seriously cut feet from the ruins of a seawall. The salty sea masked the gashes that day, and we continued to play until we saw the bloody water surrounding us. We missed the first few days of school as we each lay in bed with bandaged feet soaked in S.T. 37, an old-fashioned antiseptic.
The next move brought us to the huge city of Houston, Texas, where my father worked as an engineer for the Texas Highway Department. He helped design the Gulf Freeway, and our family made frequent trips, passing by the huge oil refineries in the area, on our way to the beaches of Galveston, Texas.
Later, after I married and had children of my own, I continued these traditional trips to our beloved Gulf of Mexico. By then, there were times the ocean contained small balls of tar, ruining our bathing suits and our experience. There were times when the polluted streams that fed into the ocean suffocated the fish. There was the time when the Houston Ship Channel caught fire from the pollution running directly into it from the line of oil refineries lining its shore.
We began to suffer along with the water and all living things. I moved away to Maine with the pristine shores of the Atlantic Ocean. How much longer can we protect ourselves from the disasters now affecting the Gulf of Mexico? Today the Earth is pleading with us. How much longer will She be able to speak?
Sally Breen lives in Windham and grieves for those days of a clean Gulf of Mexico.