Beach Days Then and Now
Beach Days Then and Now Long before I could read or tell time, I knew when it was Saturday in the summer. If Dad was home and the cooler and thermos appeared in the kitchen, I knew what day it was and we were going to the beach. My sister and I would eagerly help with the preparations for the day. We’d make lunch of jelly sandwiches (no peanut butter, just jelly) and wrap them in wax paper. We brewed teabags in hot water, added a scoop of sugar, and put it in a thermos with some ice from the ice cube trays. Aluminum glasses in different colors helped keep it cold once it was poured. As for snacks, some peaches or cherries or maybe some plums would be enough. A blanket to sit on, some Coppertone, a towel or two, a pail and shovel to occupy me and we were ready. We’d pack up the ‘54 Chevy, the one Dad painted battleship gray with a three-inch paintbrush right there in our driveway the previous fall. We were on the road by 10AM. I should mention that when I was a young girl, my family lived in Nassau County and Jones Beach was our destination. That’s where we went every Saturday. Not only did our car lack air conditioning, as all cars did in the ‘50’s, but it also lacked a radio. Dad would lead us in song and we would sing all the way there: “Downtown Stutters’ Ball,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.” Dad knew a lot of songs. None were current. We sang a Scottish drinking song, “A Wee Deoch-an’-Doris,” and hymns, “Abide With Me,” “Brighten The Corner Where You Are” and, my favorite, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It took a long time to get there, but the time seemed to fly by. The parking lots filled up quickly, but we could always find a spot. By noon, the sand was a patchwork of blankets. You could rent striped umbrellas and matching sling chairs, but we never did. Most people had blankets. It was a skill to navigate around them to get to the water without getting sand on someone else’s “space.” The lifeguards were very busy. Several times a day, they would leap from their stands and dive in the water to save someone. I stood up and watched, holding my breath, until the person was safely retrieved. Throughout the day, the life guards would blow their whistles to alert swimmers they were out too far, or dangle a child in the air and wait for a parent to come. Thankfully, I was never one of those children. My family had “beach protocols.” After settling in, we took a walk along the shore. A full hour’s rest after eating that jelly sandwich was a necessity because Dad said a killer cramp would get hold of you if you went into the water too soon. After our lunch break, we’d go for a swim then walk to Zach’s Bay. The path was lined with petunias, and their sweet smell filled my nostrils and stayed with me all day. We were only at Zach’s Bay long enough for a quick dunk to cool off, and then we’d walk back to the blanket. Time for our snacks, another swim, perhaps a nap and another dip and before I knew it, it was five o’clock. Time to head home. Many years later, after I was married, I migrated to the East End and to the beaches of Southampton. I now take my grandchildren to the beaches here to give them fond memories, like the ones I have. It’s not the same. It’s not simple anymore. First of all, grandchildren want ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches on rye bread, or turkey and Munster on a roll. Welch’s grape jelly on Wonder bread is never an option. They ask for an assortment of juice boxes, individual bags of chips, three or four different kinds of fruit and, why not some Goldfish too. Sit on a blanket? Not going to happen. My grandchildren have their own beach chairs, which I admit I bought for them before I realized I would be the one to drag them onto the beach. Aside from sunscreen with an SPF of 50, we need to bring two umbrellas, cover-ups, and hats so the four year olds don’t get wrinkles or worse. And toys. We pack pails the size of fruit baskets and shovels like the entrenching tools the Army doled out during the Viet Nam War. There are sifters, watering cans, trucks, footballs, volleyballs, beach balls, Frisbees, boogie boards and whatever else they can think of. Might as well bring it, is the thinking of the day. We don’t want any tears. Time was when we jumped into the car and only had to remember to close the door. To put children in a car nowadays, you need patience and fortitude (and the strength of two lions). Is the five-point restraint tethered to the frame of the car? How many car seats do we need? Which ones should face forward and which ones should face the rear? And don’t forget, kids under eight need booster seats. As if loading all the gear and food and drinks, extra clothes and maybe Pampers and wipes isn’t enough, we need to remember the children. Buckling them into their car seats not only requires practice and non-arthritic fingers, but a back rub with Ben Gay after everyone is harnessed in. Of course the car is pre-cooled, and Pandora is tuned to their favorite station. The truth is we are at the beach in less than ten minutes despite the fuss. Unloading the car is another adventure. We now have a cart, like the one my grandmother used to haul her groceries home from Bohacks but much much bigger. It’s from Costco so it’s very big. We fill up the cart and then Grandpa and I strap chairs, another Costco special, to our backs. Like pack mules with children in tow, we walk a few yards to the beach. The whole process is exhausting and we’ve only arrived. The beach is a beautiful place to come home to. The hot white sand on bare feet, the pounding of the ocean, the warmth of the sun, and the songs of the gulls are always special. The sounds of the waves and the squeals of delighted children remain as I remember. Some things don’t change. Thankfully. All the Febreeze in the world can’t mimic the smell of the ocean, and no white noise machine can replicate its roar. I have discovered though, that now the Piping Plover has some of the finest real estate in the area. Who doesn’t like the ocean? I couldn’t get enough of the waves as a child. Some of my grandchildren won’t go into the ocean because there’s seaweed in it, and fish poop there. They learned that on educational TV. It’s a big ocean, I remind them. Others go in the water and won’t come out. They don’t believe the rule about waiting an hour after lunch and the giant cramp. One kid wouldn’t eat his sandwich because I forgot the hand sanitizer. No one is interested in going for a long walk, and no one wants a nap. The kid who wanted ham and cheese now has a craving for tuna fish, and we seem to have only one bag of BBQ potato chips and there are three kids who don’t eat Ranch Doritos. Did we bring Vitamin water? No. Someone lost his sunglasses and is now totally blinded and staggering off in the wrong direction. Just how many times do kids have to go to the bathroom anyway? If Jones Beach had a concession stand, I never went there. Nearly everyone on the beach is sitting in chairs under umbrellas. Hardly anyone puts blankets on the sand so it takes no skill in avoiding them while walking to the water. It seems most people are careful and obey the rules. Perhaps they’ve read all the warning signs. And very few children seem to get lost and have to be hoisted up the lifeguard’s chair so that their parents will find them. At the end of the day, I know they all had a good time. So what if they ate a little sand and swallowed some salt water. The rash will go away, I assure them, and the mosquito bites will stop itching. And if they didn’t have all the food groups this day, well so be it. I missed the beaches during the years I lived away. The beach was the magnet that brought me back. Although a day at the beach seems more complicated now, perhaps it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was for my parents either. No matter. The memories are worth the hassle.