Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beach Days, Part One.

Beach season is over.

Despite a possible autumnal pilgrimage, people have put away their left-over sunscreen, beach umbrellas and completed their summer reading.

I realized that this year, at no point, did I put my feet into an ocean. That made me very sad. Is summer summer with no sand between one's toes?

My family used to love the beach.

Brooklynites can pick from a variety of different beaches and, when I was a kid, were militant about their choices--which they stuck to for life. Clearly, my beach was better than yours.

Some went to Coney Island, of course.
Others to Manhattan Beach while a tiny handful of renegades would make the trek to Jones Beach on Long Island.

Beautiful and deep with fine, white sand, we were devotees of Brighton Beach. Named to evoke thoughts of Brighton in England, it abuts Coney Island but was less popular than its more showy cousin.

We'd go nearly every weekday, avoiding the weekend crowds, taking three different subways to get there, laden with folding chairs, towels, blankets and enough food to sustain an army for weeks...possibly longer.

When I think about how much we carried and how many flights of stairs we climbed, I am genuinely amazed.

We'd show up around nine in the morning. Among the first to arrive, the tracks of the beach cleaning trucks were fresh and the sand was open and inviting. We'd keep the tide in mind so we wouldn't have to move later on and set up, more or less, in the same spot every day.

We never used a beach umbrella. We'd slap on some Coppertone in the morning, never reapply it and got so dark over the course of the season that somewhere exist pictures of us where we are barely recognizable--tan and grinning with blazing white teeth and sun-bleached hair.

Assorted family members would join us as the day progressed: uncles and cousins mostly, some of whom were very strong swimmers. They casually swam out to the end of the jetties, occasionally signaled to by lifeguards if they ventured beyond the limits of life-saving, God forbid.

Few people had heard of coolers back then much less owned one. Most sealed food up in plastic bags to be buried in patches of shaded sand to keep cool. You knew it was around noon when the grown-ups appropriated our toy shovels to dig up their lunches and, if you were the family who camped next to us, a nearly full bottle of vodka.

I never learned to swim. A huge liability which still causes me discomfort, I made sure my boys learned early but, other than a handful of hardcore swimmers, most people just played and splashed in the surf. 

The kids, between building things with plastic pails, would collect shells, pop seaweed and shudder at the carcasses of the dead horse shoe crabs that littered the water's edge.

My mother warned me that I should be on the lookout for giant turds that might float towards me in the ocean, claiming she'd come face to face with one when she was young. I totally believed this and warned my boys to also be wary of giant floating turds.

I wish I'd asked her, years later, whether this was true or yet another extremely effective ploy to control me. I was very careful as a result of the anxiety caused by the rumor of these buoyant but gross offenders.

Action from the lifeguards was rare. I can't even remember seeing the fit, wiry men, who sat on their big white chairs with zinc oxide on their noses and towels across their knees, race into the water to save anyone although I'm sure it happened. 

We'd pack up around four in the afternoon but occasionally stayed later. My favorite time on the beach remains to be very late afternoon when the sun made our shadows very long-limbed and our heads tiny.  

Staying late might warrant sending a consenting party to seek additional sustenance because the fruit, sandwiches, cookies, lemonade, hard boiled eggs and cold fried chicken would be depleted by then. 

We took eating on the beach very seriously. Didn't food taste better when eaten by the ocean? Besides, no one had money for the expensive treats available on the boardwalk.
Awful but I wanted one.

Plus, it was a very long walk from Bay 8 to the brightly lit food stalls from which
I desperately craved the unnaturally yellow cobs of corn hanging under the hot lights. The lights kept them warm but rendered the once tender kernels tasteless and indigestible. 

Distance brings me to another major component of a beach day...

Obviously, we all peed in the ocean. Occasionally someone would wander into a "warm zone" which meant that another bather had very recently done his business. You'd scream and move on...after all, someone had, more than likely, recently ventured into a warm zone of your own creation.

But poo poo in the wa wa was was a no no.

Other than the mysterious bastard who created the giant turd of my mother's youth, we all held whatever we had until we got home. I don't know how we did it but we did-- especially keeping in mind that we were eating constantly.

Giant turds aside, it certainly was a blissfully innocent way to spend a summer. I will address the boardwalk and what lay beneath it tomorrow....


  1. You're the second blog friend I've met who can't swim. I find that so interesting. Would you like me to teach you?

    We did go in CT when we visited my MIL years ago. She was a member at a private beach club- very chi-chi.

    It seems funny to have an end to the beach season up there. It was 102 here yesterday so people here are still flocking to the water whenever they can.

  2. Ahh! Some kind of miraculous network error has occurred and I can comment on today's post!! YIPPEEEE!!! :)

    The beach sounds WONDERFUL when you describe it. I've only been twice to the ocean. It's a 10 hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico (can you imagine driving for 10 hours and still being in the same state?!) and when you get there it's awful muddy and murky and a little dirty. Not nearly as beautiful as your beaches sound.

    So very good to get to comment today, I still do read everyday!! :)

    Lots of Love!

  3. Private beach club? Bah! As for teaching me, I thank you but I feel I am beyond being teachable. I stiffen up in fear and even with my fat to muscle ration (what muscles?), I can't even float!

  4. Cat!!! So glad to hear from you here! The beach was wonderful...not sure how wonderful these days, though.

    A ten hour drive and still in one state blows my tiny mind...but everything is bigger in Texas, as result--and that can't be bad!

    Lots of love back! XO

  5. My family would go to the beach too. 20 minutes from here, by car. Black sand, strong winds - long stretches of nothing and no-one but us and our little dog.
    I haven't been to the beach in years. Rick says they are closed.
    When I die I want some of my ashes turned into a diamond, and the rest scattered at the nearest beach. Such good memories.

  6. Black sand, Janet---I would love to see that. And I, too, have discussed the scattering of my ashes off at my beach. But first, I would like Keith Richards to snort some.

  7. Susan - we used to go to Jones Beach from the Bronx. My parents would never leave the house until early afternoon. Then we'd go to West End 2 - with the never-ending stretch of sand - and we'd have to treck over that broiling stretch - had to be at least 1/4 mile till the water! We, too, would bring TONS of stuff: umbrellas, chairs, thermos bottles (coffee, ice tea, hot cocoa for the evenings...) a playpen, pails, shovels, kites, a loaf of french bread, hard boiled eggs, the salt shaker... You get the idea. Don't know HOW they did it but I loved going! Lake Michigan has wonderful beaches - close to home and no sticky salt feeling!

  8. Katie, your comment made me laugh out loud. You obviously relate but Lake Michigan, Katie??? Really???