Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Memories

Fifty-two summers have come and gone since my birth and I have, for the most part, loved them all.  From the time I was barely able to walk, the sand between my toes felt more natural than shoes. Those early summers were full of stories, sand castles, and swimming off of San Clemente.  My father, tanned and shirtless,  in his white denim levis rolled above the ankle, content on the edge of the shore with a giant fishing pole in hand, was my companion.  My long, golden hair blowing in the wind, my hands bloodied by the worms I proudly threaded onto my hook, Daddy taught me to cast my line into the surf and to watch the tip of the pole bend with that first nibble.  The waves washed over my feet as they sank deeper into the wet sand until they eventually disappeared. Each wave retreated with a whoosh across glistening flat rocks at the water's edge, reclaimed by the ocean, leaving only a trace of itself etched in a thin,  sea foam pattern along the shore. The topography of my childhood - a map of my life.

As I grew, the seaweed flags atop  sand castle towers protected by deep motes built with my father's hands as he wove yarns about my imaginary adventures with sand crabs named Sandy, Amos,  and one named Johnny who was in love with me, washed away with my childhood.

Growing up as a teenager in Southern California brought with it bonfires in Doheny, the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach with a twenty-five cent admission fee, and body surfing in bikinis.  With white zinc oxide spread across our noses, puka shell necklaces around our necks, and Hawaiian halter cover ups, we were the surfer girls the Beach Boys sang about.

It is different now.  My skin, always quick to tan in summer, is blotched with sun spots that darken faster than my tan, an inevitable consequence of a life along the coast of California.  Tanned skin may be out of fashion but my yearning to worship the sun is as strong as when I was sixteen.  Only now, instead of baby oil, I lather expensive sun screen with SPF 30.  Gidget, it seems, grew up.

But the inner Gidget still thrills when the sun breaks through an overcast morning promising the spirit of a summer day.

And I remember my father's hands, powerful in the ocean as he swam through the waves and his toes,  sifting sand and hidden thoughts. Of my fifty-two years at the beach, my last memory of my father is from my twenty-second summer, staring into the fire, his thoughts unknown to me. Perhaps he knew it would be his last full day by the water's edge.

The sun never broke through that overcast August.
The waves crashed over the castle and my youth vanished into the sea.

But the ocean remains as constant as memory and tide.  As my fifty-third summer begins - I am still happiest at the beach.