Pop Goes The World

I have been fascinated by beaches for as long as I can remember.

Naturally I was jealous when my Leadbetter cousins took a family trip to Virginia Beach. I had to live vicariously through the snap shots they took upon their return. This was in the early 1980s when people couldn’t post their vacation photos in real time on the internet. You actually had to wait until you got home to have film developed before you could share your photos. Unless, of course, you had a Polaroid with its almost prohibitively expensive film.

I sifted through my cousins’ photos. I was struck by how few photos there were of the family enjoying the beach and the ocean. The only water I saw them in was the hotel pool. They explained to me that the ocean water was dirty and the pool was much more sanitary. This was at a time when Virginia Beach wasn’t the ideal place to visit. Between the jellyfish and the hypodermic needles, it was sort of a seedy seaside town.

While my cousins were at the beach, I had the privilege of taking care of their sweet dog, Muffy. She was a mutt, but we thought she was a mixture of a toy poodle and a peekaboo. Muffy and I bonded while her human companions were away. We played together all day and she slept in my bed at night.

As a thank-you for looking after Muffy, I got a “Star Wars” iron on that never actually got ironed on to anything. I wasn’t expecting anything in return for taking care of her. I loved that dog. When her family came and got her I went to my room and cried.

I never actually got to visit the beach until 1981 when I was 10 years old and my mother and I were invited to spend a few days at Mom’s cousin’s condo in Ocean City, Md.

I may have been an only child, but there are many members of my extended family. My maternal grandfather had six siblings; my maternal grandmother had five siblings.

June, one of my maternal grandfather’s sisters, married a man from the Philippines. They had four sons. It was that one son, Punky, and his wife, Judy, who invited Mom and me to their condo that summer.

Punky was not his given name. His real name was Nestor. He was a tall, suntanned man with a beard and a permanent smile. Judy was just as jovial. She was pale, kind and Catholic and called everyone hun.

Punky’s brother Denny and his wife, Sandy, and their daughter, Yvie, were also along for the beach vacay. I had met Yvie years before at a Fourth of July family picnic and since that time she had excised her long blond ponytails in favor of a chic short haircut.

I had never seen my mother in a bathing suit. She borrowed one from a friend. She looked adorable in the pink swimsuit, though she was self-conscious of her varicose veins.

The blue swimsuit I wore perfectly fit my backside, but my bustline had a lot of growing to do until it could fill out the top of that one piece. Unfortunately that didn’t occur while we were there.

It wasn’t long before I found out that people with skin as fair as mine are not meant for extended hours in the sun. I had my first real sunburn while there.

My mother always said that sunburns get worse after sunset and sure enough, my skin got a brighter red with every hour approaching nightfall.

I discovered also that I wasn’t fond of being in the ocean. I didn’t like how the waves knocked me down. It wasn’t like a pool where there was a firm concrete floor beneath your feet. It scared me when my feet sunk into the sand and there wasn’t a metal ladder to cling onto.

What I did love about the beach was everything I didn’t expect. I never knew that freshly cooked seafood when poured onto a table covered in newspaper was an Epicurean delight. I witnessed the milky spill of reflected light from the moon at night. The ocean at night sounds different, it feels different. It’s wondrous how something that sounds like a roar during the day is more in tune with a lullaby at night. The ocean water around the ankles at night is cooling and soothing.

My mother and I spent a lot of time post-sunburn on the boardwalk. There are pictures of us there courtesy of her pricey Polaroid. I can’t remember who went along with us that day, but I do remember what a fun day that was for Mom and me. We didn’t ride any of the rides, but we stopped somewhere for food, bought souvenirs, and didn’t get sunburned.

When it was time to go home, I had a hard time saying goodbye. I didn’t want to cry, but once that sting started in the back of my throat, there was nothing I could do but cry.

I still love the beach. I know that my skin burns easily so I always put on plenty of sunscreen. Walking along the shore at night is still one of my favorite things to do. I love the ocean tickling my toes as I look out into the darkness as the waves arise, looking like the carefully crocheted borders of one of my mother’s homemade afghans and I miss her and all the others who have passed, even Muffy.

The News-Gazette

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