I got my deep love of the water and the beach from my beloved mother Betty.
Born in Brooklyn on Bastille Day, her lifelong enthusiasm for the sand and surf was deeply infectious and I caught the beach bug very early. Before I barely walked, my mother had me crawling on the warm white Long Island sand not far from where we lived, and splashing in our little vinyl backyard pool in our new suburban home.
Endless summer days at the beach with her remain some of my fondest childhood memories. Days spent at my grandmother’s beach club, one of the dozens that dotted the narrow spit of Long Island, were magical. The memory scents bring me back immediately. Offsetting the slightly musty earthy dampness of the cabanas, was the tropical smell of Sea and Ski blending seamlessly with the bracing briny sea air already choked with the roasted, woodsy, stinky smell of cigar smoke, pungent chlorine, and the greasy snack bar burgers and fries.
Unlike most of the other heavily tanned and bejeweled ladies who populated the beach club who teetered and tottered about on perilously high raffia straw wedgies slides, a cold Pepsi in one well-manicured hand and a glowing Kool in the other, my very-hands on mother would spend hours in the pool with me. Splashing around happily in the shallow end of the turquoise tiled pool, we would watch the endless parade of preening women providing endless entertainment.
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 my own mother 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.
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.
No, the sandy 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. My mother though loved getting right into the nitty-gritty of the sand especially when it came to building sand castles.
So when Mom and I headed to the beach it was almost always nearly deserted.
Clutching my colorful metal sand pail as she clutched her flowered plastic lined beach bag packed with some fluffy freshly laundered towels, a change of suits for me, and enough Cracker Jacks to see me through some serious castle construction we would head for the ocean skipping with great care over the mollusk shells dropped by seagulls.
The memories remain long after the sand castles dissolved.
As my mother became infirm in the last few years of her life keeping her from the beach, her Sundays spent poolside at my Huntington home surrounded by family bought her infinite joy.
But not as much as the joy it gave me, providing this for her.
The highlights of my summer were always her big July 14th birthday bash, where relatives and friends filled my patio and pool.
My mother is gone now, as is the pool. The memories are forever.
Happy birthday, I hope you are on a heavenly beach right now.