Three years ago, a few days before Memorial Day Weekend, I visited Ocean City for the first time. My wife was interviewing for work in Salisbury, and I was taking care of our then three-year-old daughter, exploring the area, seeing what there might be to do here. We had a couple hours to kill, and I knew the Atlantic Ocean was close by. So I drove our rented car along US 50 and crossed a narrow four lane draw bridge, passed through a traffic light, and parked in the first spot I found. There was a big sign overhead: Welcome to Ocean City. We didn’t have bathing suits, and though my daughter was a great swimmer she had demonstrated, on two trips to Mexico, a decisive dislike of the ocean. So we avoided the sand and the beach and opted for a stroll on the boardwalk.
We didn’t make it far. Shortly after our arrival on the boardwalk the Ocean City Police Department arrived on bicycles. We watched as they lined up, received some instruction, and then learned how to ride their bicycles up a short set of stairs. As each cyclist rode up the steps, a gauntlet of cadets were lined up to pull each to the top if they faltered. My daughter screamed with delight as each cadet succeeded in the climb.
At some point, as we watched, a seargant appeared. He knelt in front of my daughter, who had the look of one who has just seen her first celebrity. He handed her a small pin in the shape of badge. It read, Junior Police, Ocean City. She jumped up and down and begged me to pin the silver pin on her purple shirt.
My wife had two more interviews in other parts of the state, but somehow I knew right then that this was the place we would live.
Last week, for several days, my daughter begged to go to the beach. “We haven’t been to the boardwalk in months,” she said. So I agreed, and on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend I took her out of school about two hours early and we drove that same stretch of road, over the narrow four-lane bridge, through the traffic lights, passed the White Marlin Fountain. I parked in hourly parking spots beneath the Welcome to Ocean City marquee, and we climbed the same steps that we had seen those cadets ride up three years ago.
My daughter is six now, a much better swimmer, and she loves the ocean. Today, though, she didn’t want to go to the beach, though she had been talking about the beach for a week. Instead, she wanted to walk the boardwalk, what I have come to learn the locals call the boards. There was a new sculpture on the beach, a whale that seemed to be rising out of the sand itself. She climbed on top of it and stood proudly on the whale’s head. This has become a much more familiar place to us now. I know that from here Thrasher’s is just a few blocks south, and there’s a Dumser’s Dairyland stand a couple blocks north.
“Should we get some ice cream?” I asked her. Three years ago I’m not even sure she even knew what ice cream was.
“Let’s wait,” she suggested. A daughter has a world of surprises in store for an unsuspecting father.
We walked up the boardwalk. She wanted to go into the shops, to look at clothes. She’s only six, and already she wanted to shop for clothes. I pictured her in ten years, wandering the boards not with her father in tow but leading a group of friends. They wander into Quiet Storm and go upstairs and look for new bathing suits to wear all summer long. Now she could find nothing that fit her, and I convinced her that the four bathing suits she has would last through this summer, and hopefully into next. She tried on a hat, admired a skateboard because it was pink, and gave the clerk a start when she pulled on a rubber bracelet. “I don’t want her to break it,” the clerk said.
Outside the sun shined and despite being nearly summer a cool wind made it feel more like a fall day. My daughter took my hand and pulled me north. “Let’s get some ice cream,” she said.
We didn’t see any police officers, and the boardwalk wasn’t very crowded, really. It was still early on Friday; the bulk of the tourists hadn’t arrived yet. But for my daughter and I, with a couple hours to kill, the summer tourist season had begun. I found the picture I had taken three years ago and showed it to her, and she laughed. She was too young then to have remembered the day, but she remembered the pin, which she still has, stuck in a board on a wall in her room. My little Junior Officer of the Ocean City Police.