The smell of sea air evokes a sense of wistfulness and the desire for freedom. Days on the beach for me were not as many as the average Australian as mum and dad were not beach goers as such. In my teenage years I used to go on my own or take my nieces down for a play. Rarely did I have a friend to go with and I suppose that is why there is a sense of peace and melancholy attached to it. When S and I go, the day is often quiet, K is working and it is early in the day before the crowds appear.
I like the quiet splash of the water as the sea meets the sand edge and rolls back and perpetuates the movement over and over and creates this peaceful mantra as you lie back and enjoy the sun. I always have an eye on S as he paddles about and now and then join him, wading slowly in trying to avoid that cold creep of water up the body. Getting past the waist is always difficult.
The noise of the beach, water, children, background chatting and the traffic in the background is strange and soothing and always gives one a sense of deja–vous. Hot days down the beach are the best even when uncomfortable and prickly in the hot sun. We have a lovely 1960’s canvas beach wind shelter and we huddle in there and have lunch and tuck our feet under the towel to hide them from the sun.
S will then jump up and decide he is going to dig a big hole. The two of us dig for a while and every now and then S runs down to get a bucket of water to fill the hole but it is futile as the water simply seeps through the sand. But it makes the sand cool and we put our hands in the hole and feel the coolness. After a while he tires of this activity and the two of us sit on the edge of the water and make a castle or fort or look for flat stones to skip across the surface of the water. I can do about five skips on average and S can do three. It takes a while to master the position of the hand, arm and body to get the movement right.
We never take much food down the beach. Lots of water though. Hot days just stifle ones appetite. But S always gets an ice cream from the Mr Whippy van if it is parked nearby. He will wait patiently in line. He likes the whipped, sweet and cold ice cream dipped in melted chocolate and on a hot day, as he walks away from the van, one hand gripping a towel around him, the other holding the ice cream, it is a race to lick the melting ice cream and chocolate before the hot sun and wind do their job. Dripping down the cone and onto his hand making it sticky and he alternates between licking the ice cream and licking his hand. I have never seen an ice cream disappear so quickly and by the time we make the slow walk back to our towels it has all but gone.
Sometimes I get a gelato. The colours of a gelato have not changed since I was a child. The ice cream van would go up our street tinkling and tempting us to run out. I always got gelato. Pink, blue, white, orange and brown all mixed in a pile. So now I get them still, nostalgia may be a part of the appeal. Even though I like the white and tart lemon flavour the most, I still ask for the full colour range so I can enjoy looking at it as I eat it.
Eventually the day has to have it’s end and we shuffle up the the beach to the car with me carrying almost everything except the towel that S has wrapped around himself rather than get dressed. Whilst the car is hot, it is never as hot as when I was small, no vinyl seats to burn our thighs, no chrome seat belt clips too hot to touch and the best thing is that we can turn on the air conditioner and cool down.
The sounds around us, the blue sky, the changing colour of the water, the dark patches where rocks and seaweed hide and the gritty sand never change through the years. The fashions may change, sunburned skin not so prevalent, rash vests and hats everywhere and huge sun shelters that spring up like blue and yellow mushrooms all around. But the rest stays the same.
So the beach is a twofold event for me. Reliving the ever changing yet never changing atmosphere of it and sharing that time with S, perhaps creating a new memory for him that he may take with him when he takes his own children or meets his friends at the beach.