June 19, 2006

Beach Meme

I saw this at BeachMama's. I don't know if she intended it to be a meme, but I could not resist.

Ten Things that Remind me of the Beach

These are all childhood memories of the crowded beaches at the Jersey shore. We used to go there every August to visit my grandmother and aunt. A week at the beach was a novelty, since we spent the rest of the summer swimming in the marsh or off rock ledges. I’ve been to many other beaches since, but I guess those early impressions are the ones that stick.

1. The smell of Coppertone suntan lotion. When I was a kid, no one in regular life used sunscreen (had it been invented yet?), but the tanned bodies of people around us at the beach were slathered with Coppertone. We all thought sun tan oil was something glamorous, invented so that in the movies hot male actors could rub their hands suggestively over women’s bodies.

2. The way the inside of a car smells on a very hot day. My parents' driveway was shaded, and they parked in the shade wherever they went. But when we went down to the shore, the parking lots were in the direct summer sun. The seats of the car would be so hot that we would have to put towels down before we could sit on them. We would roll the windows down so before even getting into the car. (Air conditioning hadn't been invented yet either.)

3. The smell of salty wind. I can remember that on our first trip of the season over to the ocean, my father would say, "Roll down the windows! Can you smell that great salty smell?"

4. Root beer. We would be driving from my grandmother's house to the beach on a dreadfully hot day, and the bridge we had to cross to get to the beach was a drawbridge. When the drawbridge opened to let boats go safely through, traffic would back up for miles. We'd be all sweltering in the hot car, a whole bunch of us kids crammed into the airless back of a station wagon, and we'd look out the window at this restaurant where people were sitting outside in the shade drinking icy glass mugs of root beer. You could even see the condensation on the glasses. Nothing ever looked so good.

5. Seagulls.

6. Airplanes that pull words across the sky. Small airplanes would fly by the crowded beach, pulling a one-sentence ad. I was always fascinated by the strings of letters, and I'd sound them out until I could read what they said. One time, I had a lot of trouble (I was pretty young) until my aunt pointed out that they were all backwards. The plane looped around, and then I could read them. I still have this idea that I'd like to write a poem that could be performed by several small air planes. Wouldn't that be cool?

7. The smell of straw. I don't know if they even make them any more, but my grandmother and aunt had these straw mats that they always used at the beach. The advantage to the straw mats, which were not as soft as towels, is that sand just shook right off them.

8. Sun hats. You don't see many sun hats where I'm from. We have trees, lots of shade, and many overcast days. But I can remember that down the shore, many women wore sunhats at the beach – big and floppy or wide-rimmed. Whenever I see an old-fashioned hat like that, it reminds me of the fair-skinned Irish women in my mother's family, who wore hats even as they stood at the water’s edge in bathing suits.

9. Beach umbrellas. Big, colorful umbrellas that would make a small patch of shade. No one uses them here, on small beaches on lakes or rivers, and certainly not on the islands of solid rock where we swim up at camp, but down the shore, they were everywhere. I always memorized the umbrellas nearest to me when I was a kid, because I needed to take my glasses off to swim, and the bright colors of the umbrellas were the only way I could find my way back to the right clump of towels and blurry shapes that were bodies. Sometimes while I was swimming, some family near us would pack up their umbrella and go home, and I would be left wandering around in a blur, unable to find my family until someone would notice me stumbling about and come rescue me.

10. Kites. I come from a place where trees and powerlines make kite flying difficult. But at the beach, all kinds of gorgeous and colorful kites would be zooming about above our heads. It's hard not to feel happy when you are flying a kite.


BeachMama said...

I feel so honoured. It wasn't originally a meme, but I love that you made it into one. And how you explained why each of those things remind you of the beach.

Saturday was such a hot sweltering day here, Hubby got a Diet Dr. Pepper and the day just snowballed into a reminder of the beach.

We go to Delaware every summer, my husband thankfully loves it as much as the rest of my family, it is just a little further south from the Jersey shore.

Thanks I enjoyed that :).

Margo, darling said...

Loved reading this. I am so happy it is summer again, and I get to vicariously enjoy all your wonderful warm weather family traditions. Your landscape was in my dreams last night and I felt so happy to be there. Can't remember what I was doing--maybe that game with the flashlight. I know there were lots of people, lots of laughing, and lots of good things to eat.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Beach mats! Oh my lord, I haven't thought about those for ages. We had beach mats in the early-early 80s when I used to go to the Jersey shore (Ocean City) with my gymnastics team.

Out here it's not referred to as the shore but as "the coast." And it's just on the other side of a range of mtns, so you can't smell it until you are actually standing on sand. I miss the way you can smell the shore for miles before you actually see it.

kate5kiwis said...

jo(e) i can *smell* things when i read your stuff.
i am intensely jealous of all you summer babes. we're in the middle of winter here, though kids were still swimming in the sea two weeks ago (in their wetsuits), and i sat on the beach in the rain, hiding under a towel. sad. funny.
we went to the park today and i lay in the sun and tried to pretend the wet grass wasn't making me all wet :o)

mc said...

i grew upn the jersey shore, and all this sounds right to me!! to this day, it doesn't feel like summer until i've spent a day on the beach in nj.

Girl said...

I'm a Jersey shore girl too!! Only my trip to the shore was only a mile from the tree shaded hilly groves to the open sandy beach!

My favorite memory...hibachi barbeque on the beach. My dad was a delivery man for a sausage company and my mom would take my sister and I to the beach for the day and after all the tourists had gone home and the sun was dipping in the sky, my dad would come meet us and we would hibachi barbeque on the beach.

KLee said...

Ooh! I love these! I grew up on the beach, and this is like a glimpse back at every childhood summer, and even some summers still.

I also remember flip flops. You always had to have flip flops to go to the beach here because both the asphalt of the parking lots and the sand were like molten lava. Of course, once you made it to the cooler sand, the flip flops were tossed carelessly off.

Ice cream. No trip to the beach was complete without a sticky, sugary, melting ice cream cone. We alawys saved that until last, as a treat on the way home.

Yes, they still have those straw mats -- I still see them every summer. I can mail you one for the sake of nostalgia, if you like!

Floats. We had to have floats and rings to take to the beach with us -- I can still see my father, red-faced, as he struggled to blow them all up.

Oh, and sand dollars! We would screw our toes into the sand, searching for sand dollars for hours. then we would take them home, and clean them, and my mother would paint them with beach scenes and give them away. I can still remember the horror I felt the very first time she told me that bleach killed the animal inside the sand dollar.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

jo(e) said...

Klee: I almost included flip flops but I already had ten things. When I was a kid flipfops were ONLY for the beach. It still seems funny to me now when my students wear them to class or I see them in the grocery store when we are no where near the shore.

Mona Buonanotte said...

One of my first 'real' jobs in my teenage years was working at a restaurant famous for its root beer. I'd make it in huge shiny metal vats, and serve it up in frosted mugs. Mmm...to this day, that is summer to me. That and the smell of coney dogs and onion rings.

cut-rate parasite said...

I remember most of those from trips to the Jersey shore, and out to Jones Beach on Long Island. I remember sounds, too, like seagulls calling, foghorns, squealing kids. I lived in L.A. later and the sounds were very different. Cooler, colder. But that was nice, too. Thanks for reminding us of these.

jo(e) said...

Hey, cut-rate parasite -- nice to see you back to blogging!

Kelsey said...

All this talk of beaches makes me wish I lived somewhere that wasn't Ohio. I could use a good snort of salt water right about now!

Anybody read the July National Geographic on the overcrowding of the coast in the US? I have a link to it in a recent post on my blog Touron Talk.