Yes, beach days were blissful.
When it was my turn to be the Mama, we went very often but Brighton was exchanged for Coney Island based on majority rule.
Several mothers, with a few kids apiece, would caravan in the early morning and stay for long, lazy days--often dragging chairs to the water's edge, sitting with feet in the surf, while the kids splashed around us.
Most of us didn't have air conditioning but no matter how hot it was at home, there was a salty breeze and vendors selling ice cream and cold beer at the beach.
The ice cream was delicious and the kids seemed to enjoy the beer.
Although by that time, it was a new generation of vendors, they remained essentially the same: shirtless men in various stages of pectoral defeat or women missing a tooth or two, wearing sneakers with the toes cut out.
Toughened to leather by the ocean air and well-crisped by long days in the sun, they pulled shopping carts and dry ice in the old days, later dragging heavy coolers by cords tied to the handle.
They sold knishes, soda, ice cream, beer, sun lotion, candy-- loudly barking out what they sold so you knew, in advance, to locate the baggie containing your keys and dollar bills. You didn't bring your wallet to the beach.
The boardwalk was always festive. We'd put on flip flops if we decided to go up but, more than likely, we'd go under the boardwalk...especially if it was very hot.
It was a different world down there.
Immediately ten degrees cooler, the sun pushed between the boards in elongated strips and the smell was, simultaneouly, both fragrant and sour.
Sounds were muffled. The stream of thumping feet above your head, constant.
Along certain parts of the miles of Brooklyn beach, you could cross directly underneath to reach the sunshine, bypassing the boardwalk entirely. But by Bay 8, the sand was higher and only small children could stand up under it.
This only added to the mystery and appeal.
You'd sit in the dimness for a while, legs shoved into the cool sand, especially if you were within the no-going-into-the-water-for-an hour-after-lunch-because-you-could-get-a-cramp-and-drown rule.
This rule was strictly implemented by my mother. Being the horrible parent that I was (and still am--holla!), I did not enforce it. Thank God nobody ever got a cramp and drowned because that would have made me look really bad.
One day, my mother told me that if I saw any balloons under the boardwalk not to touch them.
Balloons? Why would there be balloons under the boardwalk? I'd never seen one but I was damn well going to keep my eyes open now.
And why couldn't I touch a balloon if I found one? I'd ask my mother but she'd become evasive and change the subject.
So the day I found the used condom in the sand under the boardwalk, it never occurred to me that this was what my mother meant.
I thought she meant inflated, floaty balloons not this mysterious slimy thing so I brought it over to ask her what the heck it was.
Her eyes bugged out of her head like a cartoon character.
Taking a reflexive step away from me at first, she then lunged to slap it our of my hand. "I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH BALLOONS UNDER THE BOARDWALK!!!!" she hollered and then, if memory serves me correctly, fell backwards and went into a coma.
This event affected my attitude toward prophylactics for a very long time.
To this day, I don't really trust my right hand for not having had the instinctive wisdom not to have picked up a used condom.
I can still feel the grit in my sandwich and smell the pungent air.
I can feel my mother briskly drying my hair with a towel and holding the blanket around me as I changed, shielded from view, out of my wet suit for the subway ride home.
I can still feel it.....still.