I’m not sure when my mother and her family stopped wearing bathing suits at the beach or if they ever did. My only memories of my mother from my childhood have her dressed in long pants; a long sleeved white cotton shirt and dark sunglasses. She was long and lean with tiny bones that I swear were more avian than human. Her dark hair was cut close to her head with untamed curls that framed her face. She would sit in a folding chair under our pale yellow umbrella next to our red plaid cylinder cooler. Inside were egg salad sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and then piled into an old Wonder bread bag. The bag with colorful dots was wedged into ice, which would melt as the day progressed. Now and then I see coolers that are exact replicas at flea markets and consider purchasing one. I know it’s the memory of hot summer days I want to buy.
Every Friday, in later years, my mother and her brother and sister and a gaggle of in-laws would meet at Robert Moses Beach. Field 5 was their beach of choice and if you parked over towards the left and took the last path onto the beach you would no doubt find them. I would escape now and then from work and drive out to visit. At the end of that last path, I’d start scanning the shore this time for a purple umbrella. Huddled underneath were my mother and her siblings clad in shoes, pants, jackets, hats and if there was a hint of a breeze, towels worn as capes. It was probable 90 degrees but the breeze off the ocean chilled them. They were in their late sixties and early seventies and swore that sunblock worked best if you didn’t rub it in. They loved the beach but never went swimming and I always laughed at the sight of them. “What is wrong with you people. You’re wearing shoes at the beach!” They didn’t care and eventually someone would hand me an egg salad sandwich. I’d stretch out next to the purple umbrella and silently ponder how I could be related to such characters.
I went again to Atlantic beach last week. Because of my surgeries, I have to be careful of the sun. I’ve been warned by all of my doctors to never get sunburn. The sun block I used the week prior didn’t work as well as I had hoped. A hint of a burn could be seen. This past week Vita said, ” I do not want to be held responsible for that skin of yours. Wear this rash guard. It’s for surfing or for people who can’t take the sun.” It worked perfectly and my skin was spared the brutal rays of the sun. As I stood in the water with a long sleeve shirt on I laughed to myself, I was becoming just like my mother and her siblings. Next week, I may not rub the sunblock in.