The Beach

Written By: Gail  Litman

When I was young I used to play in the sand at the beach for hours during those long hot summer days. I remember how my older sister used the handle of her shovel and drew a circle in the sand to stake out our area. My sisters and I built houses and created intricate pathways while our parents sat on their chairs. People passed on their way back and forth to the water. Some noticed our hard work and walked around our grand designs while others, without realizing it stepped on and smashed our creations. Others ran across kicking sand in our faces. I looked at the people who passed and noticed differences in them. Some were children, others elderly. Some walked slowly, others treaded carefully. One day, I tugged on my father’s swimming trunks to ask him a question. He picked his head up and bent forward to listen to my request. I asked, “What age should I look forward to?” He cocked his head to one side surprised. I usually asked if it was time to go into the water. He moved closer and peered deeply into my eyes wondering what sort of mind could be brewing in his shy quiet child who played so quietly while his two other gregarious daughters vied for his attention. He finally answered, “Every stage of life has its own particular beauty.” Satisfied with his answer, I went back to my sisters and continued to play. Many years later, almost a lifetime thereafter, my daughter called me to report she was experiencing cramps. She was seven months pregnant, too soon to give birth and her doctors warned her to stay off her feet and get more rest. I cancelled my appointments and rushed to her house to help take care of her two daughters, ages three and five. Her children wanted to go to the beach – who could blame them living in the Hamptons with the most magnificent beaches and a respite from the sweltering madness of the city. As I was busy running back and forth collecting the towels, shovels, suntan lotion, drinks and snacks for my grandchildren, I noticed the three year old clinging to my daughter, her mother lying on the sofa. When it was time to leave, the little one wouldn’t budge no matter how much coaching we tried. In her mind, no one lies on the couch unless they are sick. She was protecting her mother just like a pet holds vigil when his owner is sick. She knew there was a baby in her mother’s belly but didn’t really understand what that meant. Not like her older sister who was already experienced in these matters and holding my hand eagerly waiting to go to the beach. She was ready. Her younger sister was not. I put down our beach gear and sat on the couch across from my daughter. I began to describe when I was a little girl and my mother was pregnant with my little sister. “Can you imagine your grandma as young as you?” I said talking to no one in particular. “No way grandma,” my older grandchild remarked as she reluctantly sat on the floor in front of me. “I was and I remember so clearly my mother pregnant with my younger sister as if it were yesterday.” The three year old came and sat on the floor next to her older sister. Both were listening as if I were reading a story from a book. “My mother’s belly was big just like your mother’s.” And with a circular motion with my hands I showed how big my mother’s stomach was. “Every so often she let me put my hand on her belly and I felt the baby move.” “Ooh!” They both said with such wide eyed wonder. I flashed upon the first time I dug for clams and was instructed to look for air bubbles in the sand. Clams breathe. I was amazed. I looked at my pregnant daughter. She smiled at the scene being played out before her of her children engrossed in the story I was telling. Perhaps, she was remembering when I used to tell her stories using stuffed animals like puppets to her and her older sister when she was young. “Remember the stuffed animals.” I asked. My daughter nodded in agreement with tears in her eyes. It seems that as we age the expanse of time dissipates into the memory of moments. As I looked at my pregnant daughter, memories of the sweltering summer I was pregnant with her came flooding into my mind. With my swollen belly I headed to the beach and sat the whole day on my beach chair with one hand feeling the movement of my baby within me. I observed the array of characters around me; the children playing in the sand, the flirting of adolescence boys and girls, the elderly women standing calf deep in the water dunking halfway to cool themselves off. I watched the middle age men with protruding bellies dangling over the edges of their bathing trunks ogling the bodies of the svelte females who passed and of mothers changing children out of their wet bathing suits. I listened to the calls of the ice cream man, ‘soda, water, ice cream’ as he carried a bulky cooler across the hot sand. I found it remarkable that each person I saw was at one time in their mother’s belly. And I wondered what sort of person would this baby be? My granddaughters sat on the floor patiently waiting for me to say more. I continued, “My mother went to the hospital and in a few days she returned home with an infant. She walked into her bedroom and laid the baby on the bed. She carefully un-wrapped the blanket and I stared at my little sister. It was so small with such little hands and feet.” I showed the approximate length of the baby with my outstretched arms. My grandchildren mimicked trying to measure the size of the baby. I kept adjusting the positioning of their arms to get the size about right. “Look at how big my hands are against yours.” I held up my hand. My granddaughters giggled as they took turns comparing their hands against mine. “That’s how big your hand will be against the baby’s. And the baby’s feet will be so small.” I lifted up my foot and my granddaughters took turns comparing their feet to the size of mine. “And do you know what happened next?” I asked. They shook their heads ‘no’. “The most amazing thing happened. The baby yawned.” “Ooh!” They responded. When I was finished telling my story it was time to leave. My younger granddaughter took my hand and walked out the door without turning back to glance or say goodbye to her mother. We had not even walked a full block when she broke her hand free from mine and ran back to her house. Her older sister and I hastily followed in pursuit. As we entered the den, we witnessed my three year old granddaughter gingerly walk up to her mother lying on the couch and listened to her say, “I’m medium, my sister is large and the baby will be small.” She was ready to become an older sister. With that, she took her sisters hand and we walked to the beach. As my two granddaughters played in the sand I looked around. There were middle-aged women standing in calf-high deep water gossiping over the latest celebrity shindig. Single girls lying on blankets with their bikini top straps tucked into their bras careful to avoid the undignified tan line, an old couple sitting under an umbrella – she was knitting as her husband slept with his mouth open. I dug my toes into the sand and felt the cool damp layer beneath the hot surface. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. As the sun warmed my skin I listened to the comforting sounds of the surf. My father was right. Every age has its own particular beauty and at each stage of my life the beach has been my faithful companion and ever present witness. Gail Litman is a writer who holds a M.A. in Art Education and a Masters of Social Work. She is a licensed clinical social worker with a thriving private psychotherapeutic practice working with individual, couples, and families on Long Island and Manhattan and is available for phone session when clients are in another part of the country.