“I love it when people come out looking stoned on massage,” Mary Pat Delay tells me, eyes sparkling over vegetable frittata’s at Salt Air Cafe in Point Lookout. I nod, knowing just what she means. I’ve probably had that look many times. Ahhhh, the power of a great massage. . .
Mary Pat is the owner of Healing Oasis, a tranquil refuge just east of Long Beach Road. She bought the business in 2016 after working there four years as a massage therapist. When the owner approached her about buying it she was shocked. She always loved the place but said, “Here I was pushing 60 and knew nothing about running a business. But I thought about it and discussed it with my family – and we went for it.”
Long Beach has been Mary Pat’s home since 1976. She grew up in Oceanside, and often came to the boardwalk with her grandmother in the early 60’s. Young Mary Pat would enjoy the rides and the arcade wearing “her Sunday dress and party shoes… back then, there wasn’t a man without a tie and jacket on the boardwalk.”
After high school she rented a “cheap, terrible apartment” on Franklin and Shore Road, where she remembers, “I would be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of junkies withdrawing.” Social entertainment in those years included Chauncey’s and a dive bar under the boardwalk called, Dirty Dicks.
Within a few years, she moved to Oregon Street, met her husband, and bought a home in the canals – where they still live today. “I love my block, it’s like the United Nations, so much diversity, from China to El Salvador.” She drove a school bus for Chaminade, worked at Mercy Hospital as the “television girl” (collecting fees for tv and phone use) and had two children, a girl and a boy.
Her son was born with only one kidney, and they knew it was a good bet that he would need a replacement someday. So, she and her husband saved whatever they could for his future medical needs, just in case they lost their insurance or faced discrimination for a pre-existing condition.
Life went on. And then – a turning point. Everyone’s life has a few of them, but not one as dramatic as Mary Pat’s.
One day she was walking near the old King’s Pharmacy strip in the east end. As she passed one of the adjacent homes she heard a ferocious growl, and turned to see a large dog lunging over the top of the fence. Instinctively, she raised her hand up for protection. Fortunately, the dog didn’t have enough leverage to jump the fence but he was high enough to bite the glove right off her hand. Damn, she thought, I love those gloves. Then she looked at her hand. Half of her left pinky was missing.
Mary Pat never got an apology from the dog’s owner but she did get some settlement money. She used it to go to the The New York College of Health Professionals in Syosset to become a massage therapist, something she had always wanted to do. “My half pinky didn’t affect my training or my massages. But it did affect my golf!” she says with a good-natured grin.
Mary Pat completed the program, and then, on the very day she earned her massage certificate, she got a call from her son’s doctor. The time had come, he needed a new kidney as soon as a donor could be found.
They sprung into action. Since organ donations from family members run the least risk of rejection, everyone was tested. Mary Pat proved to be the best match. Her kidney was transferred to her son and mercifully, his body received the organ well; Mary Pat however, took quite a while to recover.
Once her strength and vigor returned, she went to work at boutique spa’s in neighboring towns. Then she was also hired by the Allegria Hotel to give massages to their guests. “I loved it because I met people from all over the world.” In 2011, a friend brought her into Healing Oasis. “It was so great, I would get to live AND work in Long Beach.”
Mary Pat also uses her training to give back to the community. Closest to her heart is the Waterfront Warriors Organization. Every year she and other volunteers give free massages to veterans and their families inside a large tent on the beach. “It’s the high point of my summer,” she says. “When you’re at a table with a man who has one leg, it puts everything into perspective.”
Mary Pat radiates joy and enthusiasm for her chosen profession. “The human body is so fascinating,” she says, “and we’re all the same. The fact that I can touch a back or a shoulder and know what’s going on is amazing. You have to be an artist – you have to feel it. If someone tenses up, I know it’s going to be a challenge.”
Curious, I asked if she ever had a client who didn’t have some kind of knot or pain that needed to be worked on. She giggled and said, “Only once, and when I asked about her lifestyle she told me, ‘well, I smoke a lot of pot.'” (Gee – makes me wonder how the massage therapists do in Colorado. . .)
Mary Pat’s current Long Beach favorites include a night out at The Cabana, and fishing for striped bass on Roosevelt Beach. She truly adores this town, but worries that Long Beach is going too high – and will become a town only for the wealthy. “They’re paving paradise and putting up parking lots.” But even still, she says, “I’m never leaving! I love it here – plus I never want to have to clean out my attic!”
Healing Oasis is open 7 days a week – and has a menu of services which include facials as well as massage. Mary Pat may only have half a pinky and be minus a kidney, but she knows exactly how to get you into the zen zone.
Polar Bear count – Three sweatshirts and two towels. (Plus dozens of Waterfront Warriors swag!)
Coming up next on Short Stories from Long Beach: A few chapters in the life of Long Beach Public Library Director, Michael Simon.