Monday, August 15, 2011

The Delicate Flower/Fusspot Goes to the Beach

L.G.C.Smith

You know I can’t resist recounting the suffering I endured in childhood or any opportunity to complain. The notion that if I don’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything is just plain no fun at all. I live to rant.


I first saw the ocean at age five somewhere along the Oregon Coast west of Portland. We had just moved to Beaverton from Billings, Montana. My mother and us kids had never seen the ocean, which my father, with a Navy stint under his belt, was determined to address at once. Our first weekend in Oregon, before the moving boxes were unpacked and the bunk beds set up, my dad piled my mom, seven and a half months pregnant with my youngest sister at the time, and the three of us kids, ages five, three, and eighteen months, into the Volkswagen bug and headed for the Pacific Ocean.

It was November. The beach wasn’t much improved by the intermittent snow. It was grey. Grey water, low grey sky. That wasn’t so bad. At least I didn’t get a sunburn. The worst, as I was to discover is usually the case, was the sand. Sand is evil. I don’t care how pretty it looks, it’s not nice.

In this case, it was grey and covered with clear bubbly things that turned out to be jellyfish. My dad picked one up on his car key and dared me to touch it. Huddled in my snowsuit, I refused. My sister, brother and I finally took refuge behind my mother, using her as a windbreak. We pleaded to sit in the car. When frozen spume began pelting us, my dad finally relented. (The picture below is the total antithesis of that Oregon beach. It's on Guam. That's my brother in the water. He was five.)


When we showed little enthusiasm for further beach trips, my dad found a lake for us to camp beside near Fort Clatsop. It was close to the beach, but it had its own special kind of lake beach hell that involved being devoured by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds while sinking up to our knees in mud.

A few years later my Dad dragged us all out to Guam. This was ostensibly for his job, but it might have been purely for the potential to inflict torture on me. On the way, we stopped in Hawaii to visit our cousins. There were some bad beach experiences: Sun burn at Hickam Beach. Flattened by a sneaky (and big) wave at Waimea Bay. Sand in all the usual uncomfortable places, including rather a lot permanently embedded in my scalp. You don’t know pain until you’ve tried to rinse all the sand out of your hair with a sunburned scalp underneath.

And dear God, is there any more dastardly garment in the world than a wet, clinging swim suit? Especially when you have to go to the bathroom and you need to get it down fast when you’ve waited for your turn in the long, long lines at the totally inadequate beach bathrooms? And you’re a kid whose parents don’t believe in bikinis on little girls? And you’ve fully embraced the rule that you never, never ever pee in the water?

All this was nothing compared to what was coming in the three years on Guam. The sand in Guam is special. The island is surrounded by a coral reef. It’s not like Hawaii at all. The ocean breaks on the reef, and there’s a lagoon inside. There’s coral everywhere. Coral is sharp. The sand is full of coral. Cuts from coral don’t tend to heal well. They easily abscess. Tropical climate. Weird microbes. Bleh.

To protect your feet, you wear shoes. This was before water shoes. We wore Keds.

Can I just say that swimming in wet Keds sucked. They felt like the proverbial cement overshoes. Walking and running in not-very-nice sand in wet Keds wasn’t much fun, either. They attracted clumps, which caused stumbling and made me lose races. They rubbed on my heels. I got blisters. They tracked whole deserts worth of sand into VW vans and bugs, and into the house if one wasn’t careful. This typically caused lots of parental yelling. The one advantage, aside from avoiding coral cuts, was that when I accidently stepped on sea slugs, it wasn’t as disgusting as it would have been in bare feet. Having your ankles spayed with sea slug guts is never fun, but at least they didn’t get stuck between my toes.

I’ll spare you the times my father tried to force me to snorkel. I couldn’t coordinate breathing through the tube. He got mad, and it scarred me for life. I have never wanted to snorkel since. Alas. And the agony of constantly having to buy ugly swimming suits was traumatic. I thought it would never end. All those years of being dragged on almost daily family trips to the beach have left me a lesser, wounded soul.

For the record, I don’t actively hate beaches anymore. I’ll even seek them out as long as there’s no sunbathing or swimming required. No other people present is best, but sometimes that can’t be helped, so up to twenty people on a good long beach is okay. Dogs don’t count.

Ah. Beaches.


9 comments:

toni in florida said...

I'm with you. I like the beach in the early morning, at sunset, at night, in the winter, or in a light rain. At no time do I want to have on a swimsuit for these beach visits. I will wear sandals and jeans or shorts (as appropriate) and stroll hand in hand with a loved one, discussing the world or reveling in one another's silent company. And I am never going into the water above the ankles, unless someone I really (really, really) care about is drowning or a bill bigger than a $20 blows into the waves out of my hand. There are sharks out there... and jellyfish... and worse, salt water to sting my eyes and turn my hair into straw.

If it's true that life is a beach, perhaps my addendum to that is also: sometimes you get sand in your suit, which is irritating and can ruin your picnic.

And don't even get me started on SEX on the beach... (Can you say "Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow, no!!")

Adrienne Miller said...

Those pictures are fabulous! and how in the world did you all fit inside that VW Bug? I can imagine that you would be at your most Eeyore-ish in a bathing suit. Love it.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Sex on a beach...shudder. A beach house, okay. But only after full sand removal from all parties.

Note to self: skip that pirate romance idea; maybe the mermaid one, too.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Adrienne! Eeyore?! MOI? No one has EVER made that comparison before. (And no, that's not my nose bumping into the screen Pinocchio-style.)

Rachael Herron said...

I love this - and I'd forgotten how hard it was to swim in Saipan in shoes. Remember not only the sea slugs/cucumbers but the legendary stone fish? The one that looks like a rock but when you put weight on it with a bare foot, stabs a spine into your sole? Never saw one or landed on one, but I was TERRIFIED to go into the water barefoot.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh, God, Rachael, I'd forgotten about the stone fish. I was constantly on the lookout for them. I never saw one, either. On the other hand, I stepped on plenty of sea slug/cucumbers. Seems like there were other scary water creatures, too. Small sharks. Crown of thorns starfish. Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish. One day the water was full of them at Tarague Beach on the north end of the island. Eels. Maybe that was my imagination. Stingrays. It's a wonder we survived. :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh lynnie, do iever remember soggy keds! and i LOVE the pictures too, especially the one of you in pigtails :) i am jealous that you and rachael have that adventure in common. i feel left out.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Sophie, I don't know if you can see them, but there's a pile of wet Keds in front of the VW Bug in the first picture. My mom was trying to keep the sand out of the car. Like that had any hope of working.

That's JanPan in the pigtails. I'm the one in the middle. My dad took all those pictures, by the way.

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