In the summer of 1960 the glitter and glamor of my Grandmothers beach club often rivaled the showboating and schmoozing of the presidential campaign that summer.
A glittering spectacle, out dazzling the sun and each other with their gleaming potpourri of garish gold and sparkly diamonds, the club was filled with middle-aged sea nymphs in sun-frost green, icy turquoise and luminous gold, Riviera radiant from head to toe in their sun blazing Cote Azur colors
Like the other Beach clubs that dotted the narrow spit of Long Island, the club was always overrun with sun worshiping, jewelry glittering, deeply tanned women, their middle-aged-matronly bodies newly trim from a week at the milk farm pummeled and pounded by a host of masseurs, squeezed into this seasons-must-have figure flattering swimsuit.
Splashing around happily in the shallow end of the turquoise tiled pool, my mother and I watched the endless parade of equally shallow strutting ladies preening for lots of second glances.
Each gals curve hugging suit equipped with molded bras to showcase bountiful bosoms,competed for attention- a flurry of rhumba stripes, pleats, cotton shirred, piped ruffles, saucy anchor buttons, and bows placed just so.
It was a peculiar female universe at least during the week when women far outnumbered the men, but for the solicitous cabana boys, and the occasional group of stogie smoking, pot-bellied retirees dressed in eye-catching terry lined cabana sets in exotic patterns evoking the faraway South Pacific.
Whether playing pinochle or gin rummy, their lido straw hats dipped strategically below one eye, they always listened to the ball game.
Even with the southern drawl of Red Barber blaring loudly from their large Sylvania transistor radio with the oversize dial and the Conelrad markings, the folksy red head’s colorful play by play of the Bronx Bombers reverberating throughout the club was not enough to dim the high volume chattering of these strident ladies.
Since the men were in such short supply during the week they hoped to at least elicit envy from the other scrutinizing gals.
They teetered and tottered about on perilously high raffia straw wedgies slides, sun-loving fun-loving play shoes studded with colorful sea shells or a gay spray of red plastic posies to brighten their footsteps, a cold Pepsi in one well manicured hand and a glowing Kool in the other, my grandmother called them the girls from Iponema by way of East Flatbush.
Beneath huge showy straw hats, some as large as pizza pies, their winter dull hair, had been miraculously enlivened by Miss Clairol in mouth-watering shades that ran the gamut from apricot soufflé, strawberry parfait, and lemon meringue.
Unlike Mom, their teased hair never seemed to melt or wilt, thanks to liberal use of Helene Curtis Spray Net, nor were their lips like Mom’s, covered in chapstick, but improbably colored by Hazel Bishop’s no smear lipstick, staying so perfectly you could swim with it-but-god forbid you got wet swimming and risk ruining your hair-do.
Life’s a Beach
My grandmother was in possession of prime beach club real estate, a much coveted corner cabana, so we were treated to unobstructed vistas of the clean white sandy beach
The powerful ocean waves were restrained by algae stone jetties that also served the purpose of dividing the white sandy beach into socially stratified enclaves.
These unofficial boundaries protected each beach club from the huddled masses lest it be turned into, my grandmothers worst fear, a Coney island where the crush of crowds concealed the sand, the beach filled with who knows what kinds of people who had been who knows where.
Living proof that the American dream was alive and well in mid-century america
But the beaches themselves were often deserted.
The ladies of the club much preferred to loll around the pool on chaise lounges as the cabana boys lavishly rubbed Bain de Soeillee Orange Gelee onto their mahogany burnished, Lady Norelco’d bodies.
Lest they lose their dollar tip at the end of the day the crew cut cabana boys were careful to avoid shmeering the goopy orange gel on m’ ladies new-this-season Rose Marie Reed swimsuit, the one featured at Saks but scooped up for a song at Loehmans.
They would make a splash without once getting wet.
No the beach was not for them- it was too messy with its gritty sand that got into all the inconvenient nooks and crannies, its salty mist terrible for their elaborate do’s.
For the afternoon, while their balding overworked, overweight husbands labored in the steaming heat of the Garment Center, and their kids safely tucked away at camp these suburban satyrs were temporarily transported to a Riviera of their own making.
Copyright (©) 20012 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved -Excerpt From Defrosting The Cold War:Fallout From My Nuclear family