A Young Girl and the Sea

People often have a thing about the sea. Obviously not all people, some people don’t feel anything about the sea, nothing at all, and that might be because they are mountain people, or river people, but some definitely have this thing about the sea, and they go overboard about it, they mythologise it, worship it, talk about its endless appeal, they look at it with reverence and with awe, and see it as a vast infinite mystery of creation and the key to understanding the world, human soul and everything else. Personally, I think they are overthinking the sea, but each to their own.

What follows is a true story. As true as I can make it several decades after it happened. When I was seven years old I went to the seaside for the first time. I went with my mother, her friend Zofia, and Zofia’s daughter Goska, who was a year older than me.  The sea was some 400 kilometres away, so it was the furthest I’d ever been from home at the time. It felt like a massively exciting expedition and I couldn’t wait.

I managed to keep several surprisingly clear memories of that trip. One image I have is of the four of us walking to the beach through the village. The village the way I remember it consisted of long winding dirt track with wonky wooden houses on both sides of the road. The houses looked uneven, in a wavy sort of way, as if they moments from collapsing. I remember dark wooden planks glistening in the sun. I am not sure why they glistened, whether it was rain or a shiny varnish reflecting the sun. This is one of those useless but persistent memories that have stayed with me through the years.

The year was 1974, the year of World Cup final in West Germany. Poland was doing well in the tournament. My mother and Zofia threw themselves into the football and watched all the games on a small black and white TV, with tiny convex screen, like a giant eye of an alien insect.   They both smoked a lot, laughed a lot, shouted and swore every time the game was not going well for us. I remembered being utterly horrified by their behaviour. So much so that I decided to run away. I told Goska. She listened with a serious expression, nodded thoughtfully, and then she said to me, acting like the older and wiser person she was, ‘fair enough, if that is something you feel you need to do, then go ahead and run away, but I am not going with you, I like it here’.  I was furious with her. I felt betrayed and angry. The responsibility of going it alone made me panic and soon my plan was abandoned. I wanted to tell my mother that I was not going to speak to Goska the traitor for the rest of the holiday, but that would no doubt prompt further questions, so I just pretended nothing happened.

My final memory of the trip is of the journey home. We were changing trains at Kutno. We all got onto the connecting train, only to realise that we were on the wrong train. Zofia and Goska picked up their bags and got off the train in time. My mother was dragging our suitcase down the corridor when the train started moving. I knew we were on the wrong train so I sprinted to the nearest door, jumped off the moving train, and rolled onto the platform next to Zofia’s feet. As I got up, I remember seeing my mother leaning out of the window and waving at me vigorously. When we all got reunited a few hours later, she told me she was not waving, she was shaking her finger angrily at me, but I couldn’t see it clearly, as the train was gaining speed by then.

So there, this concludes my memories from my first holiday by the seaside. Dark wooden houses, football and jumping off a moving train. Nothing at all remains of the actual sea, the beach, the sand. No images, no smells, no sounds.  I have not a single photograph of the trip either. I never went to Łeba again. I am told it is quite pretty round there.

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