It is an August evening, close to 6:00, yet the sun is warm, so the beach is busy despite the dinner hour. Lying on towels, teenagers bask, text, or chat while swimmers loll in the water, rising and falling with the rhythm of the waves. Sand castles dot the beach. Some, tide casualties, are water-rounded and misshapen, like all ruins once of man and eventually returned to earth. But around those under construction, there are shouted directions and discussion as crews of young ones haul and dump buckets of wet sand to smooth turrets and walls into shape.
Wearing neon orange trunks that match the shade of his shovel, a small boy bends to scoop sand from a widening pit dug just beyond reach of the sea’s frothy fingers. His baby sister, in a purple suit with criss-crossed straps, sits in the hole. Their father, ankle-deep in water, hands on hips, gazes toward the horizon while Mom sits on her haunches, forearms on thighs, smiling at the children.
These little ones do not look like my sisters and me, but there is an aura of the sixties in the scene, and the late summer sunshine bestows a halo of sepia memory to the present. Wistfully I imagine the three of us playing with my cousins on this same beach five decades ago, with my grandmother Byeo, Mom and Dad, Uncle Ding, and Aunt Barbara relaxing in their chairs under an umbrella. The leap to little Tucker and Casey is even easier: the baby with her dark hair and almond eyes, the boy’s lithe form, prominent shoulder blades, and possessive stance as he surveys his work.
Dave and I lounge in our beach chairs, the Boston Globe and my book within reach. Oh, we are relaxed, and it’s possible, perhaps probable, that the young parents eye us with envy. We are enviable, with our books, drinks, and serene companionship; no kids to watch over and entertain.
How I remember lusting after such leisure while grappling with a cooler of snacks and Capri Sun juices, a diaper bag, toys, towels, and a playpen. The playpen was absurd, of course, ungainly and unnecessary, but I was young. Sigh. I was young, lithe myself, with unspotted skin, and two little ones to watch over and entertain. Even then, I recognized how precious the time was and tried, I tried, to freeze it.
Beach days were tiring, but joyous. Dave and I would dig, scrape and sculpt a sand car big enough to hold two diminutive drivers and keep them happy for hours. Well, no. Maybe for a quarter hour at best. And then Tucker would head off, delighted to be exploring on his own, at least while within range of a quick parental jog.
Casey loved the beach, but hated bathing suits. She’d start the day in an adorable skirted stretchy outfit, which she’d soon wriggle out of and refuse to wear. So she’d sit on a towel, a sweet round nudie, feeding herself shovels of sand. Our little flower.
When the kids were a mite older, Tucker’s Crab Restaurant was a favorite activity, usually at Dave’s suggestion. We’d clamber gingerly over mossy rocks bathed by incoming rushes of water. Tucker and Casey would squat like frogs, peering into tide pools, feeling under stones to tug glistening purple-black mussels free from their seemingly safe nooks. The kids would crack the shells and submerge the soft insides to entice and feed the scuttling crabs.
Now I stretch back in my chair, a folding backpack model with a pouch big enough to hold towels, sunscreen, and snacks. I watch the young mom as she wades into the water with the purple-suited baby on her hip. Chubby feet hitch up as tiny toes touch chill water. The child’s eyes are wide, uncertain, afraid, and then she squalls, as the mom dunks her up to her shoulders. Yes, I am envious of her with her little ones to watch over and entertain, but that squall prompts a flash of whiny, less enjoyable moments. Like childbirth, I’ve forgotten most of them.
Our current status has allowed us a summer glorious in its wanderings, flexibility, and freedom. We attended two weddings in June, a reunion in Maine with my Farmington friends, and a gathering with Trinity friends. We visited Charlie and Joanne in New Hampshire, Tucker and Lisa in Boston, and, a tradition we are fortunate to have every summer, spent time in Weekapaug with family. While I strive to live in the present, I’ve felt grounded in these re-connections and the reminder that I’m not just 60-year-old-Lea, but the sum of events and people, and the girl and woman I have been in relationship with them. Each phase has held joy as well as challenges, and what a blessing to say honestly – and perhaps with a trace of wonder – I am content where I am.