As a young child growing up on the edge of the East Coast, I had access to long summer days playing on the sea shore, learning the art of sand castle construction, beach combing and body surfing. At least once a week, Mom packed a cooler with plastic cups filled with cottage cheese from the Coburg Dairy Farm. When the contents were consumed, my three sisters and I kept an exciting addition to our cupboard. Each of us took a turn to claim our very own jewel tone glass. If it was my turn, I crossed my fingers for a fabulous new color like red, aqua blue or amber yellow. Yea! It was purple…!
The multi-striped beach bag bulged with PB&J sandwiches, a bag of chips, sometimes fruit and cookies. We carried it to our beige Comet station wagon along with a plastic jug of Kool-aid, awkward to carry but as you drank it from your new cup, it left the flavor of the day mustache.
If it was a particularly exciting beach day (mom had family in town), we stopped at a gas station and purchased soft drinks to savor in the afternoon sand when Mom gave us the nod. I was all about the Yoo-Hoo!
Driving to Folly Beach, we would see the Coppertone billboard, brazenly displaying a Shirley Temple type beach babe with her bathing suit being pulled away by her cute little Scottie dog, blushing as her little white toosh demonstrated how well the suntan lotion worked. Naturally, my mom carried a bottle in our beach bag, slathering us often, enabling everyone to experience a long and painless day on the beach. Each trip to Folly, I fantasized that I had been chosen to model for the Coppertone billboard but resigned the spotlight fantasy in lieu of my pretty Irish twin, Kerry. I knew it was really Kerry who’d win the audition. Besides, she owned the only two piece bathing suit. It didn’t come in my size.
In a yellow striped polyester one piece bathing suit, I marched behind Mom with my three younger sisters in our terry cloth cover-ups across the hot asphalt, matching flip flops sounding like a cadence. From a distance, I am sure it would mimic little ducks trying to catch up with mom for a day of splashing and preening in the sun. Situated between the Folly Beach boardwalk and weathered Atlantic House, our beach base consisted of an old bedspread, cooler, towels and occasionally one vinyl float that we shared.
If my sisters and I were getting along, we waded to knee-deep surf, lined up side by side, gripping the front of a float and waiting for a wave to bump us to the porpoise grey sandy shore. If there was angst in the sisterhood, bound by the duty code, I as the oldest took the blame, which allowed the younger ones to have more raft time.
Rather than watch, I would scour the edge of the dunes or granite boulders for an abandoned cup. Banished, I stooped quietly with my tattered cup at the finish line of the lapping tide. As each wave crashed through the sandy ribbon, small jewel like coquinas were washed ashore, naked and vulnerable, earnestly digging back to the safety of the granular catacombs to escape a sandpiper or two legged beach bucket predator. I felt like a Sentinel keeping prey and thieves from interrupting my beautiful buddies seeking safety. Occasionally, I would borrow a purple one to give me a private show in my recycled cup.
One low tide, one high tide and it was usually time to head home, which meant I had to release my borrowed coquinas, watching them dig to safety and back where they belonged. What was the magnetic charm of the tiny gem-like clams, the rhythm of the waves, salty sea breeze tussling long blonde manes of little girls, children’s sacred sand castles, skim boarding teens and battery operated pocket radios playing 60s tunes? Whether I was with a group or wandering the tidal pools reflecting on its hidden secrets, the beach always wrapped her arms around me. There was always a rebirth. Hope.
Each childhood summer included a beach memory for us. And every summer, the beach still did what it had always magically done. The elements numbed my lonely heart and the sea breeze blew away the cobwebs in my soul. Mysteriously, the beach refreshed and quieted the inability to find myself in the midst of my family’s uprooting due to the military occupation of my father(s). It wasn’t dad’s fault, it wasn’t mom’s fault. I was born with a personality that desired to be part of a flock, a litter, a herd, a congregation, a club, a team—a tribe. Our beach summers offered me that tribe of sisterhood; I’m forever grateful…
On June 26, 2013, I’m walking the grey sands of Folly Beach during my husband’s coveted summer month at the family beach house listening to The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Jann Arden. I smile when I pass a little blonde girl stooping as she investigates the mysteries of the surf. Still magical…