Beach Days

I fell in love with the beach the first time I put a fistful of sand in my mouth. Sure, sounds terrible now, but I didn’t have any teeth at the time, nor the ability to form concrete memory. This was later (and repeatedly) relayed to me in my older years. “You would just eat it by the fistful. Made for a heavy diaper, though.”

As a child, I spent nearly every summer day on a small beach in my small town with a small pack of water rats known as my neighbors. We endured the grueling early morning ritual of swimming lessons, in which teenagers in thick, fleece-lined sweatshirts tortured us in frigid New England waters, while they stood only up to their knees. We’d belabor our crawl strokes and exhaustively practice floating and other water safety techniques. We stood in a small huddled mass or crowded onto the lifeguard’s floating surfboard, visibly shivering with goosebumps running the lengths of our arms. Counting the seconds until that arduous 45-minute session was over. There was moaning. There was suffering. There was agony.

The moment it was over, we ran up to our collection of mothers in their beach chairs, sitting in a large circle beneath a giant willow tree with their knitting and their Tab and their Fresca and their gossiping and their being dry and warm. Monsters. Cruel, emotionless monsters. They wrapped us in our towels and rubbed our backs to warm our little broken spirits. We guzzled kool-aid and audibly chattered our teeth as the blood slowly, painfully returned to our veins.

Now that that torment was over, we were finally free to return to the arctic water for the Entire Remainder of the Day.

My mother often referred to me as a fish. My sister, on the other hand, was content to remain at the water’s edge, in the wet sand and tide pools, making castles and playing with dolls and other people’s babies. But I could spend hours, literally, in that icy water until my body was so pruned and wrinkled that I looked like someone’s Nana. There were underwater tea parties and races to the raft and back, diving for seaglass and collecting periwinkles. There was a lot of work to be done. I rarely came up for air or back to my towel for fuel and provisions. When I did, I maintained that dramatic, heavy breathing that children have so expertly mastered as a bookend to a rigorous run through the sand or lugging heavy things like mother’s purses. With gasps for air and hands resting on knees.

Like most of my interests, my love for the water lay on a very fine line between something my mother took pride in — “She’s such a strong swimmer” — and something that tried her very patience. At 4pm, when the mothers began packing up to go home, so too began the chorus of shouting our names, the I’m going to count to 3‘s, the addition of our middle names, and the right now‘s. Waves can be surprisingly loud, and it is therefore perfectly understandable why Stephanie Elizabeth did not hear that if she did not get out of the water this minute, she was going to be left at the beach by herself. Jeffrey David, he too found it difficult to hear what his mother was saying or notice that she was saying anything at all. Elizabeth Karen, Alyssa Katherine and Amy Lynn, they all could not hear what these raving lunatics on the sand were saying. There they stood, a silent row of angry-faced women, mouths moving, arms waving, veins bulging. Not a very becoming look for the tranquility of the beach, don’t you think?

These days, I am more interested in spending the entire day in the sand with as many books as I can carry. I’m not really interested in throwing a frisbee around, playing badminton or bocce. A Fresca would be great. But I can still spend hours in the water, riding the waves and exhaustively practice my floating. Maybe the occasional underwater tea party. The waters in Japan are not at all icy and my mother is not standing on the sand screaming my first and middle names, but when it’s time to leave, it’s hard. No matter how hungry or sunburnt or tired I am, no matter how dark or cold it’s getting, when it’s time to leave that water, there is moaning, some suffering and a little bit of agony.

Shirahama Beach, Shimoda
Izu Peninsula, Japan

8 Responses to “Beach Days”

  1. BF says:

    this is perfect, steph. all of it. what great memories.

  2. hannah says:

    Stephanie Elizabeth! I love you. Did you hear what I said??? I mean it, don’t make me say it again or you’ll be sorry.

  3. rachel says:

    That’s exactly it. That is exactly how I feel in the water too. Middle names and all!

  4. Johnna says:

    I love the post. I spent so much time at your house in 1987. I should have had my own bed there. I can hear your voice in my head as I read your words. I didn’t take swimming lessons on Front beach, but I did spend a lot of time there with Alyssa that summer. Makes me miss home more than ever. Be well!

  5. cindy says:

    i think rachel said it best.

  6. lisa says:

    As a kid I’d daydream about being left behind and living on the beach, just me and my collection of shells and driftwood.

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