Where Did My Childhood Summers in Southern California Go?

Okay, I get it. We are in a warming funk. It may only last another thirty years, but, it is a funk. How I long for the days of old…when I was a “Sea n Ski” gal with my white sunscreen nose, floppy sunhat, rubber flip flop thongs (we wore them on our feet, folks), my ruffly bikini and my straw and wooden beaded beach basket tote! That was living in style! My little sidekick sister sported a matching but different color handmade corduroy beach cape with yarn ball trim and silver fancy button hooks. We also had those nifty little plastic eyeball protectors that you’d set atop the bridge of your nose as you lay down to soak up the sun and build that “brown as a berry” suntan. Suntanning was serious business to the Real McCoys that we were: the Little Surfer Girls of Corona Del Mar…The only preliminary was jumping into our big brother’s forest green bomb ’56 Chevy Sedan, and flying down the 57 with “Wipeout”, “The Monster Mash” and “Witchy Woman”┬áblaring out of the radio

This is what all children from the San Gabriel Valley would do multiple times, week after week, all summer long. And our summers were the full three months, baby! At times, the beach was often a different deal compared to where our homes were. We would leave in the mid-morning when the sun was beginning to bake at 80 degrees, only to find the the beach’s marine layer was lingering around until at least noon. That meant double doses of suntan lotion,…for everyone… had learned the cloud refractive process can redden fair skin to a ripe red lobster hue if you dare to lay under cloudy beach skies in the summer. But that was okay, because mostly I remember many carefree days playing on the shore with a cool breeze coming off the waves. It was delightful conditions such as these that borne the creative, gleeful escapades with my little sister and brothers.

We loved doing so many things together, such as beach combing for sand dollars, seashells that looked pretty, and digging for sand crabs as the tide would recede. We loved hopping over the mounds of seaweed being attacked by the fiendish little flies that loved buzzing all over them. As insouciant children can only do, we cheerfully chased the waves and would stop to dig our toes into the wet sand; for this always tickled relentlessly as the water would pull away. These were simple rituals we must do each visit. Every time, we walked the length of the beach with the intention of getting to the jetty. There we would search for starfishes and bring one home in a pail. Climbing over the rocks would be rough and very hard on our toes, but by the end of summer, we were in condition and our feet had toughened from the practice. Perhaps the most memorable summer was the one when we staked our claim at the summit of Pirates’ Cove. We discovered above the cave, if we clambered up to the very top, nearest the edge where the waves would dramatically perform their sea-song of crash and spray, was a strongly anchored pole. We painted onto an old white cloth our own flag emblem, and tied it to the pole as if this beach, cove and cave were our very own. It was OUR mystery to know; OUR realm to rule.

These summers of youth are a blessed memory. I know my siblings and I have heartfelt remembrances of our sweet Grandmother who taught us to love the beach. She is the one who took us literally into the waves as she herself would gather-up her pedal pushers or ruck-up her skirt and tie it around her waist so she herself could wade through the ocean along the shore. She encouraged us to use our eyes and look into the water, to find things, imagine things, to adore and respect the sea. Because of her, I learned to brave the waves, and body surf. She taught us to be strong and smart and to be one with the water. My little sister and I would pretend we were mermaids while we dove and flipped and frolicked as any fabled sea-nymph would do. The ocean was a multi-faceted playground and our affinity for this gifted place was always a huge part of our childhood summers.

The beach-goers of today have a far different experience. It is no longer a spontaneous excursion. Instead, it is a destination often requiring parking reservations. Too often the crowd is indifferent to the beautiful tableau before them. Instead of┬áconsideration of others’ and their space, disregard and flagrant selfishness is often made manifest. It is typical for there to be loud, overbearing conversations, blaring music, and unsupervised little ones running amuck kicking sand everywhere and onto everyone. The lack of clean-up is appalling, too. Trash just left indelibly leaves an ugly testament to modern-day indifference. Where is the respect for our planet? Where is the social conscience? Thank goodness not all beachgoers behave in this manner.

How I miss those innocent, oblivious summer days on the beach. My transistor radio softly played “Oh, Sweet Pea come on and dance with me”, while my “sunbathing” Barbie Doll greeted her boyfriend Ken who “drove up” alongside her in his snazzy convertible. He’d “hop-out” to join her in her fun…I even miss my own casual gawking at the surfers and lifeguards, and reading on my stomach so I could scope out the rest of the male population from behind my sunglasses. When I think of all those beach days, I recall delicious picnics comprising tuna fish sandwiches, grapes, lemonade, Fresca or Squirt, brownies and Ruffles Potato Chips. Lively conversation and giggles always accompanied such a meal. The beach was a place where imagination, dreams and giggles were allowed free-reign. No wonder the fondness for such a place kindles strong in my soul. The magic of childhood is a blessed thing to experience in such an unfettered way.

When the sun began to go down, the whole ambience of the place would change. Those beach goers remaining, were hoping to see that sacred orange ball dip into the horizon. They always sat in muted, pensive, still repose. Everyone was in their own thinking world. A hush would fall over the total beach almost as if it were a sanctuary of some sort~a special world requiring honor and afterthought. All sea worshippers would hear the symphony of rhythm persevere; thunderously rolling white-capped waves; pounding evermore.

Childhood summers to me are not memories of the broiling asphalt blacktop and car outdoor thermometers registering 115 F. degrees. They are not the cranky drivers, nor the insanely inflated gasoline prices. Summer is not the watering lawn restrictions or the drying up of trees and shrubbery. Yes, we did have fires back then, but not as many, it would seem… I guess what I am trying to say is, summer meant worry-free times. We don’t have that anymore. I’d like to hope that the summers of yore will return once more.