Girl of Summer

I love the beach; always have. When I was little, the family would go to Santa Monica, a real L.A. beach. Santa Monica is, to me, the most cosmopolitan of the local beaches. It has an old Hollywood feel with a little hippie mixed in. In high school, Huntington Beach in Orange County was the one. Strictly a bikini girl/surfer beach where one went to see and be seen. My girlfriends would lug their boomboxes across the sand so we'd have the necessary beach music. Later, my friend Tricia would smuggle in wine coolers and we'd sneak drink them when the beach patrol wasn't looking.

As a girl, I looked forward to being an adult when I'd have the means to drive to the beach (or maybe even live there) whenever I wanted. (I had lots of fantasies about being an adult and having the freedom to do whatever I wanted, like buy nothing but donuts, Ding Dongs and Tiger Tails when I went grocery shopping.) It would have been inconceivable to me to find that the adult me might only make it to the beach once a summer. But adults worry about traffic and parking and other practical matters.

“Beach Hat Reclining” oil-on-canvas by Stephen Winterton.

Then, beach trips were something to really look forward to. My sister Jenny and I would pay our $2.50 and take the community parks and rec bus down to Huntington or maybe Corona Del Mar. Once there, we were left to our own devices. Our sole responsibility was to make it back to the bus on time. Jenny would complicate things because she was such a daredevil. (I wasn't). She'd swim way out past the break and try to catch sand dollars as I waited anxiously on the shore, afraid that we'd miss our bus back (or that she'd drown). We'd usually get on with a minute or two to spare. After I saw the movie "Jaws" in the third grade (completely against my mother's wishes and without her knowledge), I was ruined for swimming for at least two years. (Geez, what a bad kid.)

When I was about 8 or 9, my sister Mary was learning to surf. She'd bring her longboard (it was longer than I was), and the board wax she used smelled so good, I wanted to eat it. (Cocoa butter). I also remember going to Newport with my sister Kathy when she was pregnant with her No. 1 daughter. I was all of 12 and Kathy must have been near her due date. Being a self-conscious tween, I thought that everyone was looking at her belly. Now when I go to the beach, I always see a pregnant woman or two.

Today, we went to Seal Beach, the closest with the fewest people (except today), and where I've never seen actual seals but did watch a group of dolphins two summers ago, which may have been the pinnacle of all of my beach experiences. Surprised to find the pay lot at Seal Beach full, we ended up parking on a street with a posted one-hour parking limit. This was bad. I didn't want to risk the $40 parking ticket, but it was our only option. So we set up the umbrella and beach chair. Charlie got to work immediately on a sand castle and quickly became lost in the moment. I read my book and enjoyed the breeze. When he was finished with his masterpiece, he quickly went and dug up a sandcrab that he named Tappy, took pictures of both castle and crab, then returned Tappy to the surf. We packed up and left after a mere 2 1/2 hours, but I didn't want to push our one-hour limit too much farther. On the walk back to the car, the sky was so blue, the clouds so white and puffy, I felt hopeful. We got back to the car and no ticket. The surf gods were good to us today.


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