I'm not much of a beach person. Too antsy, too distractible, too incompetent at leisure. But when I was a little kid, my dad took us to the Rhode Island shore every summer weekend one year. There was a particular magic to that beach, much of it centered around our amateurish events at fishing. It took me many years to understand that there was more to those long afternoons with my brother and my dad and - mostly as an afterthought - my sister, still a baby....than merely casting and reeling slowly in, with nothing, nothing, nothing to show for the effort except for the dwindling plastic container of disgusting purple baitflesh. (except for the days when dad used rinds of salami from our home-packed lunches; on those days, inexplicably, we got nibbles.) I think I understand, as a parent these many years later, that my dad had just slowed down the clock, had anchored us in a place and time where we could all go about the business of being kids.
Years later, when my own children were toddlers, we lived in a land-locked state. There were no briny piers or clam fritters to be had. Lake Michigan was a stingy hostess, offering windy afternoons when lying on the sand was a test of wills. Still, there was an occasional beach day; I have photos of us in our sweatshirts clutching paper coffee cups while the kids toss rocks into the frigid water.
(Sometimes, people say that no one truly likes to write; they like having written. I think that day was a little like that. I cherish the memories; I still have the cupful of pebbles I gathered during that long afternoon. At the time I believe I longed only to get somewhere warmer.)
Later this month, my brother and I are taking a few of the kids to an island in Boston Harbor, overlooking the skyline. On offer are, apparently, clouds of bugs and stunning views. Rocky campsites and borrowed equipment. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm guessing the sand will be too gummy for proper castles, the flora of the sharp-bladed variety. The youngest will, if tradition is to be observed, be bored and despairing before the first day is out.
Beaches are, in the end, incubators of memories. We cherish the gilded glimpses, sunrises on the water, dolphin cresting, children laughing, lovers walking in the sand. We forget the sunburns, sandy soda cans, soggy paperbacks, long stretches of boredom. Every generation endures, first, and later remembers fondly. An August toast, then; lift your glass - sand-dusted or sunwarmed - to the beaches of our memories, no less spectacular for being embelllished by the passing of time.