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.
Your mother sounds like she was a special lady, full of spunk and joy, and loving life. I’m glad you can hold on to such lovely memories.
Thank you Belinda. She could be great fun to play with and did so much to encourage my creativity, one of her greatest gifts to me.
Happy Birthday to your wonderful Mother!
Thank you so much John!
What a beautiful remembrance.
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Thank you so much Keith! This is always a very special day for me.
Thank you so much.
Happy Birthday, Betty! You must be so proud of your grownup beach baby.
Thank you, she would be happy knowing I am continuing generations of beach-loving women in my family!
Sally, nice tribute and bless your memories. You keep her alive there. Take care, Keith
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Thank you. As my mother was slipping away, I whispered to her that I was going to write stories and share her with others and I hope I continue to make good on my promise.
Heartwarming memory of Betty She sounds like a warm and wonderful mom who might remind you to keep sunscreen handy. I’m at the beach with you!
Glad to connect with another beach lover! Yes, you are right she would encourage sunscreen today, though there were decades we all thought nothing of slathering on baby oil to get a rich, dark tan! I am grateful to have had a mother who was so supportive and encouraging of me and all my creative endeavors. It was and is a wonderful gift.
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