I love the ocean in the wintertime. I’m transfixed by white foaming rolls of water that slam into the rocks with a deafening roar. But my childhood memories take me back to Huntington Beach, in May during the 1950’s.
In Southern California May meant warm sunshine and an annual beach field trip. With swim suits worn beneath our clothes, and with our drawstring bags filled with towels, lunches and dry underwear, we would scamper aboard the big yellow school buses anticipating our day of carefree play.
At the beach the buses would park in nearly empty parking lots, the doors remaining closed until the teachers and chaperones finished giving us last minute instructions. Then we would hear a low squeak as the driver slowly pulled on the lever that opened the door. We would all be on our feet by then, anxious to race off of the bus. But Mrs. Gallagher would stand in the aisle and move slowly toward the back, forcing us to stay in our seats until the kids in front had cleared the way.
As soon as our feet hit the blacktop we would bolt for the beach; shedding our shoes as soon as our feet left the pavement. We would settle on the sand in groups of three or four—the girls over here and the boys over there—all of us distancing ourselves from the teachers and chaperones.
This beach trip was a big deal to my sister and me because our family never picnicked on the beach. So it didn’t matter to us, that while the other kids spread out big bright colorful beach towels, we had brought along the oldest bath towels Mother could find in the hall closet.
Sometimes, when we arrived, a damp fog still made the water look opaque and our shoulders feel cold. We would wrap our towels around our shoulders and tiptoe to the water’s edge. We would stand there letting the icy water wash sand between our toes. Close to shore the waves would create little mounds of foam that tumbled over each other like tiny puppies at play. We would hold hands with each other while we jumped over the swells that made their way to shore.
As the day warmed up we would shed our towels and venture farther out. Inch by inch we’d go until the water seemed warmer than the marine air. We would laugh and play with our backs to the waves until—Blam! A large wave would roll in and slam us forward into the swirling tide. Legs and arms would flail in all directions. We would choke as the salty brine entered our mouths and noses. Sometimes when we weren’t nimble enough we’d tumble forward, pushed by the tide, until we ended up at the water’s edge with our faces planted in the sand.
As soon as we had caught our breath and our eyes quit burning, we would find our way back into the ocean for another go-round.
It makes me a little melancholy when I remember that my mother was afraid of the water and never shared that adventure with us.
Three word Wednesday: opaque, nimble melancholy