I was born in Bakersfield, when it was still a small town. Every summer, when my mom got fed up with the unrelenting heat, we would pack up and drive maybe two-and-a-half hours to the coast, to the little beachside town of Morro Bay.
If you’ve ever been to Morro Bay, you’ll know that it is usually overcast, or socked in by fog, and it rarely gets above seventy degrees. My sister and I were ecstatic when we would make that pilgrimage by station wagon, hanging over the seats to chatter at our parents (it was the days before mandatory seatbelts).
Once we arrived, we would go to our motel, and then hit the beach. We would play in the surf (cold!), or make sand castles. Sometimes our dad brought his waders and fishing pole, and would surf fish. My mom would rejoice in the cool air, and maybe join us in building our castles. What fun times.
When I was eight years old we had to relocate down to southern California. My sister was devastated; me, not so much. I’d been sick most of every winter in Bakersfield. The milder weather in So. Cal. suited me, as did the closer proximity to the beach.
One of our cousins lived near us now, and she liked going to the beach. Soon we were carpooling with her and our aunt, driving to the coast every Saturday to get “a tan” (sunscreen wasn’t as popular then). I was in heaven.
When we didn’t spend the day there, my mom would often pack us up in the evening to go get our “breath of fresh air.” We would drive to the beach, stop and get ice cream, and park looking out at the ocean below the bluff. I would be the one to get out and stand, feeling the breeze in my hair. Sometimes my dad would join me, while my mom and sister were content in the car.
As we all got older, we learned to drive ourselves to the beach. Many Sunday mornings my cousin, my sister, and I would jump in the car and get there by nine, before the hordes of people, and in time to watch the scuba diving class come out of the water. Yum! In those days not many girls were into diving, so it was a smorgasbord of guys for us high school girls to look at.
Eventually my cousin and sister lost interest in getting up early and driving to the beach. Sleeping in sounded good to both of them. Not me. I had bought and refurbished my mom’s ’65 Mustang, so I would get up, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and drive to the beach to continue my ocean worship alone. When I started college, I would take a book with me and read there. I was an English major, so there was always a book to read. I finished The Iliad and The Odyssey (Homer) there.
Even when I married, my husband and I would go to the beach most weekends. He knew it was one of my loves, and was smart enough to woo me there. After I had my first baby, he took the three of us to Laguna Beach, just to get me out of the house. I still remember that day, and that baby has just turned twenty-seven.
I’ve always driven my sons to the beach during the summer. They made sand castles, learned to bodysurf, and mastered the boogie board. If we didn’t go on a vacation, I made sure the three of us (and sometimes their friends) went on weekly sojourns to the ocean. And that last day of vacation before school started? We always went to the beach.
Now my sons go with their own friends, or girlfriends. But as they get ready, packing a cooler with sandwiches and chips and fruit and drinks, I can see that they remember our trips. It’s in the way they get ready, the way they pack. I smile to myself. I may not be going with them physically, but I’m still there, in their hearts and in their memories. And I think that’s even better, because I know those times we spent together, my love affair with the ocean, will never be forgotten.