Six beach towels a few boogie boards, family-sized bottles of Coppertone sunscreen SPF 4, 6 and 8 and two grey, very itchy army blankets, a large, green Coleman cooler filled to the brim with ham and cheese sandwiches, “Laughing Cow” soft cheese, crackers and baguettes and we were packed for our day trip to Santa Monica beach!
Most of the day I played in the water with by big brother and two sisters. Mom often joined us for a ride on the boogie board, laughing and squealing as she sped over the waves. She’d take a wave to shore, snatch up the board and run back into the surf to do it all over again. It made me wildly happy to see her so carefree. On the contrary, getting dad in the water was like bathing a reluctant cat. With hunched shoulders, he tiptoed his way through the first waves gritting his teeth when the cold waves hit him. Once he got in he was all right. That is, if none of his children splashed him first.
The best days were when my big brother and sister took me out beyond the waves with them to jump swells and tell me stories of sand sharks. I didn’t care about the sand sharks, I couldn’t reach the ocean floor at that depth anyway. Treading water the whole time, I lived for the adrenaline rush as a large swell pulled me up up up to it’s gentle, rounded peak before gracefully, easing me back down in the water again. Behind us the swell gained momentum, formed into a curl and crashed into the swimmers who were not brave enough to swim out as far as we did. I was not afraid as long as I had their hands in mine. I floated like a buoy above the ocean floor but my brother and sister were my anchors.
We stayed in the water as long as we could, fighting waves which grew violently strong in the afternoons. Inevitably, I’d get clobbered by a giant wave and stagger out of the white water, sputtering. Like a magnet I was drawn back to our beach blankets, finding our island of towels no matter how far I had been pulled off course by the tide. Mom and dad got a scene by scene reenactment of the wave crash drama and a rundown of every new scratch and bruise until I would catch my breath and calm down again. Eventually I couldn’t resist the pull of the water and threw myself right back into the raging surf.
It is the late afternoon which I remember best about the beach days with my family. When the surf got wilder and I grew cold and tired, I’d run shivering back to my clan on the itchy army blanket and wrap myself in a warm towel. The wind picked up and the beach slowly cleared, but we would stay. We never took that pilgrimage back home when the others did, going against the human tide to wait out the long, hot, L.A. traffic jam.
We sat with our backs to the road, our eyes on the water. Still swaying from the rocking of the swells, wrapped tightly in towels and nibbling on cheese, we squinted into the low setting sun. Still as Indians, we bathed in the light of a pink and orange setting sun.
© Marie Motil 2019-11-10