Lifetimes Unfold on Scarborough's Sands
The next day, Beth and I were back on our blanket with our melting Popsicles while I told her every detail. We giggled and dug our toes into the warm sand. Then we raced, headfirst, into the waves, and let one, the best one, lift us up and carry us back to the crowded shore.
Rhode Island has beaches with dangerous surf; beaches so protected that parents take their little children there; pristine private beaches; rocky beaches; beaches with dunes and plovers’ nests; for a time there was even a nude beach. But for me, Rhode Island had just one beach: Scarborough.
Every summer morning, my mother and my Auntie Dora packed up one of their oversized Chevy station wagons with coolers of food, beach towels, and us kids and drove to Scarborough. They smoked cigarettes. We pretended we were married to the Beatles. AM radio played “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy …” and “Come on, baby, light my fire …” and we sang along, loud, our sweaty bodies pressed together. The ride took forever. We grew sluggish. Just when we believed we’d never get there, one of us spotted the ocean in the distance. We rolled down our windows and inhaled the salty air, rejuvenated.
The parking lot was already overflowing, and my mother circled like a shark, wanting the best, the closest space. They had a strategy: My aunt jumped from the car and ran to an empty spot, holding it until we could get there. The people who didn’t think of such a great plan, who simply drove to the space rather than send a squatter, beeped their horns and yelled for her to move. But Auntie Dora held fast. When my mother pulled in and we piled out, carloads of people glared at us. But we didn’t care. We were at the beach!
We ran ahead, past the Coppertone billboard, with the dog pulling down the little girl’s bathing-suit bottom. We kicked off our rubber flip-flops and let the hot sand burn the bottoms of our feet. Our mothers, in their one-piece bathing suits and Jackie O. sunglasses, sat in woven plastic chairs, lit up cigarettes, and told us not to get lost.
But getting lost was the whole point. We lost ourselves in the tumult of the waves, letting them lift our skinny bodies and toss us about. We lost ourselves in castles, building elaborate ones with dripping-wet sand and pieces of broken shells. We walked as far away from our mothers as we could, until they disappeared in the throng of sunbathers, returning only for the cherries and peaches they’d packed, now covered with sand. Finally, tired, we went back into the water, to float. Beneath us, the waves bobbed gently, and we got lost in our own private thoughts.
If it got hot enough, on a summer night, we’d get lucky enough to return to Scarborough at night. Our fathers came home from work and we ate dinner in the overheated air, one window fan blowing it back at us. Too hot to play outside, too hot to watch television inside, suddenly we were hustled back into the station wagon and headed to the beach for “a dip.”
A dip meant we couldn’t linger. No sand castles. No long walks. We convoyed with other relatives in their station wagons, parked in the now nearly empty parking lot, and ran directly into the ocean. On those hot nights, even our parents came in, our fathers in long, baggy swim trunks with their pasty legs poking out, bellies hanging over the waistbands. Our mothers wrapped us, wet and shivering, in towels. Back in the car, we huddled together, our sandy feet rough on each other’s legs. Back home, the air was still and heavy, but in bed my skin felt cool from the ocean, and when I closed my eyes I could almost hear the waves crashing, could almost feel lifted by them.