Hampton Beach Memories, the Feast of the Assumption and Aunt Mary

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Hampton Beach postcard


Every once in a while I think of my Aunt Mary, one of my Dad’s two sisters. Aunt Mary was called “Mame” by her sister, Peg, “Drum” by her friends, Aunt Mary by her nephews and nieces.  Aunt Mary laughed and had brown eyes the size of saucers that were occasionally enhanced by a scotch or two or three or four. But today I muse joyfully on Aunt Mary who, every August, would bring myself and my cousins to Hampton Beach.

Aunt Mary didn’t swim but she could sit in the sun for days. She’d relax on the beach, read, tell stories of relatives and cousins and Ireland.  My cousins and my sisters and I would all stay in a boarding house on G street in Hampton: the Elmdale.  Aunt Mary would rent out a room with two double beds and a kitchen. We’d use a communal bathroom and showers were outside. There was an enclosed porch with folding chairs and a TV.  My cousins and I would fight over who had to sleep with Aunt Mary, she snored. Generally, the unfortunate bed assignment would land on my sister, Kate, the youngest, the one with the least amount of clout in the familial line.

And Aunt Mary would buy us soda and take us out to dinner every night. Every night.  When the servers put down the basket of bread, we’d eat at least two loaves a piece.  Aunt Mary would warn us not to spoil our appetite on the bread; we never did. It was just glorious to order ginger ales and cokes and we felt like royalty.

Aunt Mary had a boat load of friends who would join us at Hampton Beach, she’d meet up with her friends for happy hour, her crew from back home. They’d gossip and leave us alone, mostly unmarried women who not once tethered us with “careful, careful” – simply laughed; we listened to their stories, watched them relax at Hampton. We’d currouse ourselves on Hampton Beach, visit the stores, the casinos, Helpy Selfy ice cream unencumbered by parents, celebrating our freedom. 

Our weeks away always landed on the Feast of the Assumption, a feast day and holy day of obligation which occurs every August 15.  We’d go to Mass, but equally important, we’d have to go into the ocean for the “cure.”  The tradition reads that Mary, mother of Jesus, puts a cure in the water of the five oceans on this day. It was the only day Aunt Mary would go into the sea, brave the waves, though she’d simply go into her ankles. I don’t think the “cure” required full submission. But to this day, I make it a point to swim on August 15 no matter what; that cure always comes in handy.

If you knew Aunt Mary, how wonderful. If you did not, I muse joyfully you have a quick glimpse of her here: our Mame, our Drum, our special aunt. And if you did not make it into the ocean for the Feast of the Assumption’s cure, there is always next year.

Susan Dromey Heeter is a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards.

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