Friday, February 20, 2015

A beach, a song and such a 60s day

Salt air, bright sun, bronzed bodies – how can anyone not like a trip to the beach?

I’ve had the good fortune to bake my bones on beaches from Southern California to the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. I’ve even shivered on the gravel that passes for a beach on the Oregon coast.

But one beach, too far from home, continues to haunt me.

In 1966, my father was offered the chance to attend an Army engineer school for National Guard sergeants. It would mean, however, spending three months in Arlington, VA, -- the opposite side of the country from our Redding, CA, home. So he and mom packed the family into our old Ford Galaxy, hooked up a 16-foot funky old trailer and headed east.

While I theoretically liked the idea of adventure and it was just an exchange of a “C” for a “V”, I was still a typical freshman boy. Freshman boys don’t do anything without complaining. I think it is the acne.

With much show of disdain I left my friends and I left my familiar haunts. Virginia, as it turned out, wasn’t all that bad. I even made a few new friends in the trailer park who insisted – in that slow accent – that a “Coke” was a “pop.” Funny, but no southern comfort to me.

The redeeming quality to the trip was the proximity to Washington, D.C. and the surrounding landmarks that dappled my textbooks. Dad was a mailman, a soldier, an engineer – and a history buff. We spent every day he was off duty and my brother and I were out of school looking for our American roots. If it was too hot or too rainy, we went to the Smithsonian. I spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian.

It was an education that I now cherish, but eventually a boy has to put his foot down. The sun was out, it was Saturday and there was supposed to be a beach within driving distance. Dad gave in.

I was as excited as a 15-year-old boy could get. It would be wall-to-wall beautiful girls in bikinis who would almost faint with admiration when they watched me body surf onto the glistening white sand.

History I paid attention to. Geography, not so much. “Beach” has an entirely different meaning when it applies to Chesapeake Bay.

No waves, except when my little brother splashed. No surf. More cigarette butts than sand (this was pre-Earth Day). And 10-times the well-covered moms than the bikinied girls. Who were all protected by tough-looking guys making those cigarette butts. And whose 1966 bikinis would qualify as yoga suits today.

Still, it was better than sitting in that little trailer in Arlington. Until the Mamas and the Papas wafted from someone’s towel-side radio.

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray...”

No. Don’t do this to me. Not that song.

“I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A….”

OK, so Redding is farther from L.A. than Washington is from Quebec. It’s the safe and emotionally warm part that counts.

“California dreaming, on such a winter’s day…”

It wasn’t winter, but I bundled up in a towel (until I started to bake) and hid my eyes from my all-knowing mom. California dreaming… My buddy Rex and I out on our bikes. People who said a Coke is a Coke. Girls I knew who I could at least imagine in bikinis.

I went home with a mild sunburn and a song forever lodged in my head. I truly love the beach, but it only takes a little sand to click “replay” in my head. Every beach is a memory.

But not to worry, they are good memories. Now when I hear that haunting harmony, I remember the hug from Mom. And I remember thinking that Redding wasn’t so bad, after all. And I remember regaling my friends with tales of the almost-South.

And I remember a question that made me a better writer:

How can so few words mean so much?

California dreaming.


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