Our family beach house of 57 years is now a memory. I spent much of my childhood here, in the tiny 1929 blue cottage with brick-red shutters along the shores of Mission Beach. Her living room was covered in a driftwood-type paneling, a fish net hung in a corner, stuffed with shells. The floors and furniture were all a bit sandy. I often wonder why we didn’t name her. We just called her “the beach house.” To me, it was heaven on earth. My sanctuary being the wide blue ocean in her front yard.
My mom’s memories: First, it was finding the house after renting apartments for several years in Mission Beach. It was perfect because it was right on the beach and the way into the ocean was gradual. Just right for young children learning the ways of the waves. Close enough to watch from the kitchen window. The beach was rarely crowded. The boardwalk lent itself to learning to ride a two-wheeler.
Riding the Waves
Surfing the white ruffles of waves on an orange canvas float is heaven. My dad is my raft caddy, teaching me how to get through the surf. After I learn the ropes, I am off on my own. My arms paddle with ferocity out to the last set of waves. I glance over my shoulder, waiting for that perfect swell of water to lift me up, then plunge me downward into her curl. The salty water sprays over my body as I am propelled, at an angle, toward the shore, finally stopping with a thump as my float hits the sand. A rush of adrenaline always makes me giggle with delight as I turn my float around to paddle out for more. The cool water sends shivers down my thin body at the same time as the warmth of the sun gives it a glow. I smell like Sea & Ski and am either slathered in sunscreen, while swimming, or in cocoa butter while tanning. My hair dries with salt crusts and bleaches with blonde streaks naturally.
Mom calls for me to come in for lunch and I reluctantly leave my water home. After eating, I am told I must wait 1/2 hour before returning to the sea. It seems like an eternity as I nap in the warm sand, awaiting the A-Ok. I have this routine, day in and day out. There is nothing I’d rather do and nowhere I’d rather be.
It seems we are almost always together – my mom and dad, brother John and babysitter Claudia. We sure know how to play! Swim, sunbathe, ride bikes, repeat. Every kid’s dream and we are living it!
Early misty mornings at low tide, my babysitter Claudia and I awake early to see what gifts the ocean has delivered to her shore. An aroma of salty seaweed hovers in the still air. Bucket in hand, my eyes downward, I scan the beach for scallop shells, tiny clam wings and the prized sand dollar. It takes a special awareness to find the sand dollars, whose “bump” is usually the only thing visible, the rest of the fragile shells covered with sand. I create art with the shells, making hanging mobiles to decorate the beach house and my room at home. I glue my finds onto picture frames and pile them into glass jars for display. Shells are my visible connection to the ocean, even when I am not there.
My mom’s memories: As the children grew and friends were invited to come for a week in the summer, it became a destination to enjoy the ocean, lie on the beach to “cook” until a good tan was visible, and to eat the sweet rolls from the Parker House and to savor the fish and chips from the authentic English vendor, Jubbs, wrapped in newspaper and dosed with vinegar.
Sandcastles and Sunshine
It is almost an everyday occurrence. Building a sandcastle and then watching it disappear with the rising tide. Running to the water with our buckets for water to drizzle on top, like icing a cake. Each one has its own character and theme. Mostly of fairy tales, like the kind Claudia would read to us at bedtime. All of us contributing one special tower or a moat to a work of love.
Watching the sunset with my dad
Every night, my dad calls us outside to view the orange ball of sun sink into the horizon. This is his favorite part of beach living. Quietly, we gather on the deck, like a nightly ceremony. Sometimes the sun vanishes in a tangerine glow. Sometimes, when it is very clear, we are rewarded with a “green flash.” This phenomenon does not occur often and you must not take your eyes off the sun. Not even for a second! As soon the last bit of sun hits the horizon line, a flash of lime green light bursts forth, hence, the green flash. Every night we watch for it. The best part of our sunset viewing is actually after the sun has set and the clouds light up the evening sky with layers of fuchsia, fire-red and salmon orange. The colors become more vibrant, then begin to fade with the darkness to become glowing embers. Afterward, my dad and I give each other hugs, not saying a word, just sharing the emotion. Every sunset I watch now, I feel my dad’s embrace and know he is in my heart, admiring the color-splashed sky alongside me.
My mom’s memories: When Jim retired we spent free time at the beach house hosting friends and relatives. It was a great getaway. Everyone enjoyed the lazy days and the magnificent sunsets. Time marches on and it was time to say farewell to “this old house”. It was good to all of us and its walls hold just as many memories as I do. May its new inhabitants give the walls new memories to hold.
It was a time of togetherness and family love. If wishes could come true, well, mine were pretty well granted. This was summer life in Mission Beach. Still my favorite place to swim, nap in the sun, watch the dolphins and the sunsets and most of all, remember how to play again.
“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running — that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach….”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
― Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds