by Paula Freda



Most of us have lived through at least one embarrassing moment that we

can remember - the I'd-like-to-dig-a-hole-and-hide-in-it kind. In my

case, a hole in the sand on a Coney Island beach, some forty odd years

ago. And if that old woman who shared in it is still alive (or not), I

hope she will accept my profoundest apology.


My path crossed hers on a warm sunny Saturday morning. My two teenage girlfriends and I had decided to go to the beach. At our separate homes we had each packed a tote bag, with the proverbial beach towel or blanket to lie upon and bask in the sun. I don't remember why I didn't pack one, but I did bring a torn remnant from an old sheet. It served its purpose. I placed it down carefully, anchoring the corners with my shoes, my beach bag, and a brown paper bag containing sandwiches. The fourth

corner I left alone. With the other three locked in place, my temporary

comfort zone wasn't going anywhere.


We headed for the water. After about an hour, goose pimples set in. We

hurried out, heading straight for our separate stations.


I noticed it immediately; my sheet was gone. It must have blown away, I

reasoned. There was a heady breeze. I dried myself off, then went

searching. Sun worshippers filled the beach. By now the sheet

had probably been trampled and unwittingly buried under the sand.


Oh well, I should have thought, it was just an old piece of percale

cotton that I probably would have discarded when I left. But to a

fourteen year-old girl, who hated gritty sand stuck to her damp back, it

felt important.


I'd almost given up hope, when I saw it, buried under a corpulent,

grey-haired woman in a print skirted bathing suit. She basked in the sun

under a straw hat, with her belongings at her side, seemingly oblivious

to the rest of the crowded beach.


I figured that the wind had blown the sheet in her direction, and seeing

it orphaned, she'd picked it up and promptly adopted it as her own.


"Well," I told my friends, as I returned, "that's the end of my sheet."


"Go tell her it's yours," spoke one of my friends.


I was the timid type, but she was right, I felt. It was my sheet.

Gathering my teenage individuality, I straightened my shoulders and

trudged over to the sleeping woman.


"Ms.," I called. "Ms."


She opened intense brown eyes, surveyed me disdainfully from head to

foot, then scowled at me.


I plunged right in. "Ms., did you find this sheet?" I asked.


She glowered at me.


I wasn't sure she'd heard me. I was nervous, and I'd spoken hardly above

a whisper. My words had probably gone with the wind.


"Please," I said, attempting to throw my voice. "I think you have my



It was hate at first sight. "You kids are all alike," she spouted with a

heavy accent. "Go away!" she hollered. She promptly closed her eyes

again, totally ignoring me.


I retreated. "Forget it," I told my friends. "She's not giving it back."


"But it's your sheet. She has to give it back," my other friend said.

"Go tell her again."


Again, I approached the woman. This time she hollered louder. Again I

slunk back. But by now I was getting annoyed. After all, it was my

property, no matter that it was a stupid piece of cloth. It wasn't about

the sheet anymore. It was the principle behind it.


I needed just one more prodding which my friend who had spoken first,

quickly supplied.


God knows where I got the courage or the nerve, perhaps because I'd

always been an idealist. I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders

and marched over to the woman. "You're lying on my sheet," I told her.

"I want it back!"


She began spluttering epithets in her native language. Now I was mad. I

bent down and yanked the sheet from under her.


I'm glad there were no police officers at that moment patrolling the beach.

The woman was now cursing me out both in English and her native language.

A crowd had begun to form around us, but neither she nor I noticed. I'm

also glad she wasn't the violent type, never even bothered to get up,

just kept shrieking at me. I felt vindicated. I took her physical

inaction to mean she was guilty. I bundled the remnant and walked back

to my friends. They wore expressions of astonishment at what their

timid friend had done. "She wouldn't give it to me," I explained.


The matter was forgotten. The woman took a towel and spread it out,

continuing to glare in our direction. Grumbling and complaining about

the rotten kids nowadays, she lay down and closed her eyes again.


We stayed a couple of hours more, letting the sun dry our bathing suits

while we wore them. Finally, we decided to leave. We pulled on our

clothes and started packing our stuff away. As I rolled up my sheet and

placed it in my tote bag, I noticed something white sticking up through

the sand. I pulled it out. "Oh--my--God," I murmured, glancing

moronically at my friends. They swallowed nervously. "Oh--my--God," they repeated.. It was my sheet.


It seemed impossible, yet both sheets were exactly the same size and

torn in exactly the same places. But the awful truth remained that I had

ripped that poor woman's sheet from under her. I felt like an utter

idiot. I had just set my assertive calendar back by at least ten years.

That made me age 4.


As I said, I was an idealist. Still am. I had to make it right, make

restitution. Against my friends' entreaties not to, I walked back to the

woman, prepared to apologize profusely. She never gave me the chance. I

think this time she sensed my approach, because her eyes opened wide

before I'd reached her. I'm glad she was not possessed of supernatural

powers. I don't think I'd be alive today. My ears rang with her

expletives. I didn't say anything. I just dropped the sheet at her side

and walked back to my friends. None of us spoke. We simply gathered our belongings and left. We never returned to that particular bay.


That day I learned the true meaning of the words, "rash judgments". I

also never took a sheet to the beach again.




Copyright 1990
by Paula Freda


Back to Top