Occasionally my grandparents, who lived in New York City, would join us. I don’t have many memories of my grandfather as he died when I was four, but I remember seeing some photographs of them at the beach with us. My grandfather dressed in his street clothes - pants, shirt, socks and shoes, and my grandmother in her house dress, stockings and shoes and a gigantic sun hat. My parents would bring beach chairs for them and they would sit under a huge umbrella and enjoy the open air reprieve from the city, but never bathe in the sun.
Once we were teenagers we went to the beach every day, either hitching a ride or, once old enough to drive, strapping our surfboards to the top of the car. Our closest beach had 5 parking fields, each which developed their own following. Field 5 was generally for families, Field 1 for fishermen, while Field 2 was for teenagers. We would congregate there every day to surf and play beach volleyball but most importantly to work on our tans. From 9 am to 4 pm we would lay out on our towels, slathered in baby oil, and soak up the rays. Back in those days we only had transistor radios and everyone listened to the same station and the sound covered the entire beach. Every half an hour the DJ would say “roll your body” and the everyone on the beach would turn over. It would be fair to say that the main activity of my misspent youth was sun worshipping.
Over the years I have given into bringing a beach chair so I could comfortably read. I still used a towel to lay on so I could evenly tan both my front and back. Then, when the girls were babies, knowing more about the dangers of sun exposure, we bought a respectable beach umbrella to shade them from the heat of the mid-day sun and slathered them with sunscreen. I still laid out with abandon and found the feeling of the sun on my skin to be one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world.
We just returned from a beach vacation. My daughters are in their twenties and I am in my sixties. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I can no longer tolerate too much sun like I used to. What changed? My daughters stretched out in their skimpy bikinis and I wore a one piece bathing suit with a pair of water shorts and a large brimmed sun hat I just bought for my upcoming trip to Greece. I lugged a beach chair and umbrella through the sand. But it was windy and we couldn’t keep the large beach umbrella firmly in the sand. Having just read that a woman had been impaled with a blown away umbrella made me take this very seriously. I went up to the beach shop and bought one of those small cheesy personal umbrellas that latch onto your chair. I could direct it to keep the sun off the majority of my body but wound up draping a towel over my burning knees and legs.
My daughters couldn’t hide their amusement. Or was that embarrassment? I have now officially become my grandmother.