As I write this column, I am preparing for a Memorial Day
weekend trip to the beach. I am making a mental packing list that
includes bathing suits, sundresses, shorts, tank tops and an array
of polka-dotted flip-flops. I will be putting my toes in the sand,
slathering on the sunscreen and possibly wearing my sunglasses at
night. Hilton Head Island, here we come.
The beach was a big part of my life growing up, well at least once
I entered high school. The only time I went to the beach prior to
high school was when a neighbor family was going to spend the day
and they took pity on me and let me tag along. My mother was
definitely not a beach lover, so it never made the list of possible
weekend activities. For one thing, she couldn't swim and was
deathly afraid of drowning. She also hated sand, sun and
But once I hit high school and had friends with cars, the beach
became very accessible. Fire Island, a famed Long Island beach, was
less than a 15-minute drive. More formally known as Robert Moses
State Park, it is a sprawling state park with five miles of white
sandy beach line. There were five parking fields, and it was that
numbering system that determined where you would meet up with
friends. For us, it was always Field Two.
As I am packing for this weekend's trip (and by the way, I would
rather get a root canal than pack), I am laughing to myself at the
differences of packing for the beach now as opposed to packing for
the beach in my early twenties. For instance:
Now - a $50 beach chair with built-in drink holders in the arm
rests and an umbrella attached to the back.
Then - my father's old army blanket that was kept in the garage
because it was too ratty to bring into the house.
Now - Vera Bradley plush beach towel in a print that is color
coordinated with the chair.
Then - the old bath towels my mother tossed down to us because
they were so thin and frayed they no longer dried anything.
Now - All-natural Neutrogena Sun Screen for Sensitive Skin.
Then - Johnson's baby oil tinged with iodine for extra
Now - leave-in hair conditioner to prevent drying from the
Then - either Sun-In or a homemade mixture of water and lemon
juice put in a sprayer bottle.
Now - iPod, fully charged and loaded.
Then - transistor radio with a fresh 9-volt battery (that you
tested with your tongue)
Now - sparkling water, kept chilled in an ice chest with wheels
for easy transport.
Then - a quart bottle of Colt 45, drunk through a straw in the car
on the way there.
Now - a one-piece bathing suit with tummy support and additional
Then - the skimpiest bikini you could get away with before Mom
forbade you to leave the house.
Now - strapless bra with underwire and extra support to wear with
Then - umm, who needed a bra?
Now - armed with a plan to meet men.
Then - armed with a plan to meet boys.
The mode of travel has also changed. This trip I will load up my
shiny new Camry, enjoying the convenience of power windows, the
comfort of air conditioning and the sound of high-end stereo
speakers. Back then, if no one had access to a car we walked two
miles to the Southern State Parkway, another quarter mile to the
beach exit and then stuck out our thumbs.
At Fire Island, my friends and I would wade out far enough from
shore to ride the waves back in. In Hilton Head, I will take a walk
on the beach but have no intention of stepping into the ocean.
Between stinging jelly fish, foot-tangling seaweed and the
occasional throng of medical waste, I will stick to a chlorinated
pool for my swimming needs.
Back on Fire Island, food was a hot dog and a root beer float. On
Hilton Head Island, there are any number of fine restaurants
serving fresh seafood and rare steaks. Of course a visit to the
Salty Dog is on the agenda, along with a must-stop at the Hilton
Head Ice Cream Company.
Of course, it really doesn't matter how old we get or how
complicated our lives become - there will always be the universal
sights, smells and sounds of the beach that can transport us back
in time and conjure memories of the good old days. The smell of
salt in the air, the sound of waves crashing on shore, the spray of
the ocean on our face - you can close your eyes and be on any beach
at any time in your life. All it takes is a morning sunrise over
the ocean to be humbled. I plan to be humbled three days in a