Beach blanket bingo

By Cindy Phillips posted May 30, 2012

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 crowds.

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 color.

Now – leave-in hair conditioner to prevent drying from the sun.

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 slenderizing features.

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 sundresses.

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 row.

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