Fifties Facts          

The Beach

Home Away From Home

by Beverly C. Lucey

The thing about our family heading to the beach was that it took time, thought, and a list. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like Beach Blanket Bingo.

Young men in Fifties Movies would sweep into parking lots in old Chevy convertibles, hop out with towels, then run like wild colts into the sea. They didn’t bring food, lunch money, or a blanket. With names like Todd, Tab, and Troy, they would find a bedspread with the prettiest girls, girls with flat stomachs. Girls with sandwiches, who’d rub their backs with Sea & Ski. Transistor radios rocked. Volleyball or games of catch allowed Todd, Tab, and Troy to strut their bare skinned stuff.

The rest of us, back in the real world, were with our families. Basically, we would move everything portable into the car, updated with this year’s beach sticker, and head out around four in the afternoon. We only had the one car. No one could take all that stuff on the bus anyway. We couldn't go earlier. Not on a week day. My father would have finished his factory shift, sweating in the impossible heat on iron floors, while two of my friends and I languished, twelve year old misfits, on the front porch gasping for air. We were bored, inert, suspended in the heat.

When my father came home in our non-convertible Chevy we would start loading. Heavy, aluminum full-length webbed folding chairs. Big frayed towels used only for the beach. A wicker basket with fried chicken, cookies, washed grapes, peaches, and watermelon slices in aluminum foil. The hibachi, if we were going to stay past eight, on nights it would be too hot to sleep inland. Uff! Don’t forget the bag of charcoal.

In the back seat, packed around us kids squatted a heavy gray metal drink container, with a leaky spigot, full of lime Zarex. Zarex was a green sort of lime tasting syrup that came in a jug. Add water. It was cheap and sugary. Perfect for a Fifties kid in New England. In a paper bag bright aluminum iridescent tumblers in different colors rattled. We would ‘hosey’ our color. Another heavy metal cooler held potato salad, cole slaw, and tuna salad packed with ice. Every mother feared poisoning her family with mayonnaise products gone bad. A leather encased radio with huge batteries would keep us up with the Red Sox. Another crinkly grocery bag held changes of clothes, god forbid we should get chilled or chaffed.

The Loading Of The Car was a desperate attempt not to forget something, anything, that could be needed. Our slow parting from the front of the house was punctuated by my mother’s panic about forgetting.

“Uh! The mustard! Wait! Let me see if I packed band aids. Matches! Frank? You got matches?

My father would slam on the brakes at each outburst until we turned the corner. Too late, Ma.

We lit punks against mosquitoes, used washcloths for sticky hands, lugged metal TV trays to keep the ants off the food. We had everything that did not need a plug. We would drag it all toward my parents’ friends from the old neighborhood who set up housekeeping on the hilly part of the park where the best breeze was. Those people brought enough for lunch and supper. Most weren’t cooks. They didn’t make the effort the way my mother did. They’d tossed together salami, pickles, big bags of chips. Maybe they'd bring a bucket with bottles of Moxie, Nehi and Squirt, HomeTown Favorites ice cubes melting around them. We created a small, temporary town where everyone knew each other. We were all safe, even from the heat.

The memory grows slowly dark as dusk descends and the tide of thoughts moves in. My mother and her friend Irene talk softly. Maybe one of them barks out a bawdy laugh--I can’t see who. Maybe my father is smoking a cigarette or has fallen asleep and missed Ted Williams’ home run. Maybe Jane, Arlene and I are deciding that while Pat Boone is probably a nice guy, it doesn’t mean that Elvis is the opposite. Even with those hips.

Maybe I’m full of hamburgers; maybe I’m finally feeling cooled off. Maybe the night sounds at Lynch Park Beach was the cradle of my childhood where we carried our home whenever we went and it was heavy, and solid, and very, very good. •

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