Today I like: Peaceful mornings
Not so much: Muggy DC summers
So this is the last of my summer memories essays! This one was really fun. Sixteen years old. Makes me want to try my hand at writing YA fiction someday. I’ve really enjoyed posting these. Only problem is now I’ll have to come up with new blog material again! Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. xo
“Excuse me…umm, Excuse me, miss?”
Oops. I must have actually nodded off for a second. I’ve perfected the art of being half asleep with my head up and my book propped up on my legs. I can close my eyes and no one can see that behind my sunglasses I’m snoozing and not diligently manning my umbrella stand. Usually I can hear people coming. The tourists always huff and puff, and oooh aaah yikes ouch ouch on the hot sand, but this guy managed to sneak up on me. I better be more careful because if my boss, Ron Steen, owner of Steen’s Beach Service (serving Bethany Beach since 1957) were to catch me sleeping he might can me right on the spot. That man is convinced people want to snake his boogie boards. He’s not so worried about the umbrellas. I guess he figures they’re too big and obvious for someone to run off with one. Everyone around here would recognize a giant yellow umbrella that says STEEN in huge letters all over the side. But he’s really worked up about the boogie boards, so he makes sure we copy down people’s driver’s license information before we rent one. This really pisses people off because who brings their driver’s license down on the beach? But if they don’t have it I say, too bad, so sad no boogie board for you. With my luck the first time I let someone have a board without writing down their info will be the first time someone actually runs off with one of the damn things. If Ron has their info he can track them back to Pennsylvania or wherever and bang on their doors until they hand over the boogie board. Ron would definitely can me if I lost any of his stuff and I am not about to lose my job as a Steen girl, which is probably the best job in the world.
So anyway this guy is standing here and he wants an umbrella for the day. I’m glad I’m wearing my sunglasses because I’m trying not to stare. He’s a big fat guy with tons of chest hair and a furry mustache and giant Ray-ban sunglasses. That in itself is not unusual but the fact that he’s crammed into a tiny Speedo is a little out of touch with Bethany’s usual family vibe. Under his chest hair I can see he’s bright red. I wonder if that’s sunburn or maybe his bathing suit is cutting off circulation to the rest of his body. Unfortunately, my sunglasses don’t cover my mouth. I have to work really hard to keep the rest of my face pleasant but not laugh. I take his money and ask him where he’s sitting.
“Over there.” He waves toward the lifeguard stand. Usually this annoys me because people all look the same after a while and there are hundreds of them on this beach. I end up wondering around with the umbrella trying to remember who rented it, but this guy will be hard to miss. I say, “I’ll be right over.”
I climb up into the wooden shed, which everyone calls a Steen Box, and pull out an umbrella. I write the number down, grab my Baltimore Trust moneybag (another way to get canned is to leave your money bag alone where it too might get snaked) and set off after Mister Speedo.
“Right here is good,” he says as I walk up. I drop my moneybag (TIPS ARE APPRECIATED is written in big letters on there in case anyone wonders whether I take tips) and flip the umbrella over to open it. I jam the big wooden stake down in the sand and rotate the thing back and forth until it is stuck in the sand like that sword in the movie about King Arthur we watched in mythology class last year. Men always want to set up the umbrella. They act all manly and say, “Oh, I can do it, let me help you there, miss.” What they don’t know is that even if we are skinny teenagers we do this all day. There is no one who can get one of those suckers in there like a Steen girl. Ron won’t let us let anyone help because he could get like, totally sued if one of them flew out of the sand and speared someone or something. So far I have not had one umbrella fly away on me but there have been windy days when I sat there sweating it waiting for one to lift off and whack some old lady.
Since you’re swinging your arms from side to side when you put up an umbrella everything else is swinging, too. The girls who have big boobs really put on a show. I swear every guy on the beach stops whatever he’s doing when my cousin Leigh sets up an umbrella. They all just drool. We know Ron hires cute girls on purpose. He thinks it drums up business, so its like an ego boost to even get hired. I don’t have that boob gene but most old guys will get a thrill from anyone who looks decent in a bikini and they always tip well.
Mr. Speedo in no exception. As much as I love being able to hide behind my own sunglasses it works the other way, too. My skin is crawling because who knows what he’s staring at behind his Ray-bans? He hands me a five and I scoot out of there as fast as I can with a dirty look from his wife. I wonder why she gives me a dirty look when it’s her nasty husband who’s the perv. At least he didn’t ask to take a picture with me. Sometimes people rent from me all week and want a picture with the family at the end of the vacation and that’s cool. But you can tell when some guy just wants a picture of you to take home and, I don’t know, jerk-off to or something insanely gross like that. The absolute worst are the ones that don’t even ask and try to sneak pictures of you when they think you aren’t looking. When that happens we call Ron on the pay phone and he comes and gives the guy what for. Ron likes his girls to be cute, but he doesn’t want us to be, like stuck up on the wall in some guy’s garage.
I head back to my stand and pull out the lunch Gammy made for me this morning. It’s always the same thing, peanut butter and jelly, a piece of fruit, and some Christmas cookies. I’ve been eating this same thing on this same beach for sixteen years now, and it still tastes good. Only now, It’s just me staying with Gammy and Boppy all summer. My older cousins are all renting their own places when they’re home from college, living in beach shacks with like ten other people and just working and partying. I cannot wait until I’m old enough for that, but for now I have a great set-up. I stay with Gammy and Boppy all summer and my parents and sister and brother only come down on the weekends. So I’m as much on my own as I can be for sixteen. I feel so bad for my friends from home who have to stick around boring-ass Laurel with the same boring-ass people and hope to get a job in the mall at the Gap or something. Down here I get to have a whole different life. And the best thing about it is a whole different set of guys.
There are guys everywhere down here. There are local guys and summer guys and weekend warriors and the guys who are only here for a week and then disappear forever. There are bartenders, waiters, and guys who work in the surf shops or clothes shops or sub-shops or french-fry and pizza places. Some of those guys are okay but the only ones I really care about are the lifeguards. Not just any lifeguards, the guys who work at the pools at the hotels don’t count. I mean the lifeguards on the beach, the Beach Patrol.
I would never admit this to anyone but I am obsessed with the Beach Patrol. They’re all so hot up there in those orange shorts that can make anyone’s butt look good. I love how the hair on their legs gets bleached by the sun, and the raccoon circles they get around their eyes from their sunglasses. When they smile their teeth look so white it their faces it about makes you go blind. They even look hot on rainy days when they wear sweatpants and jackets that say “BBP” in big blue letters on the back and you cant see anything but their tan feet and sunburned ears.
All the lifeguards have to be strong enough to pull drowning, flailing tourists out of a riptide, so they work out every weekday before signing on, no matter how hung over they are. When I was a kid I wanted to be a lifeguard, but now I think that’s too much work. Plus the couple of girls on the Beach Patrol have to wear these God awful one piece bathing suits give you the worst tan lines ever. I would rather be a Steen girl in a bikini watching the lifeguards that a lifeguard watching people swim.
The only problem I have is that most of the lifeguards are way older than me, like in their twenties. So it is hard for me to date any of them because I’m jail-bait, plus my cousin Leigh would be really mad at any of her friends for going out with me. She still thinks of me as her little cousin. There are a couple that are my age and I have been dating this one guy, Scott, for most of the past couple summers. He’s really sweet and cute but I just can’t resist the older ones. Somehow he never finds out what I’m up to on the side, or if he does he does not say anything. Sometimes I’m afraid he will bust me and tell me to go to hell. I want to keep going out with him because he is really a great guy, plus I need a date to the Lifeguard Ball at the end of the summer, and he always carts me and my friends to all the parties.
The Beach Patrol has the best parties. They all live in these old shitty houses a few miles in-land where it’s cheap. It’s the perfect set-up for huge parties because there are no neighbors to complain and all the cops are busy in Bethany writing parking tickets. They have a bunch of kegs and everyone gets hammered and then they guys start doing crazy shit like hanging their balls out of the fly of their shorts, AKA “hanging sack”. So you’re standing their having a conversation with some cute guy and his balls are hanging out and you have to pretend you’re not noticing. Some of them get totally naked and just walk around, or sometimes they jump off the roof. It’s only a one story roof and everyone is so drunk that they just bounce off the ground but last year Leigh’s boyfriend actually did sprain his ankle and couldn’t work for a week.
I’m just in heaven at those parties, but I do have to make sure I don’t get too shitty drunk because of Connor. I love flirting with all the guys and Scott is so sweet but there is no one like Connor. I have been in love with him since I was fourteen and he was twenty. I mean really in love with him, not like some stupid teenage thing. Like if he asked me to marry him I would right now. It’s not even that he’s the hottest guy on the beach because he isn’t. He has bright green eyes and a beautiful smile, but he’s kind of chubby these days and is even a little shorter than me. But I don’t care. He’s crazy and fun and has a great laugh, but he also THINKS about things which no boys my age ever think about, like the meaning of life and all that shit. He talks to me and actually listens to what I am saying, or at least trying to say. And it’s not just me. He feels the same way I do, but like I said I’m jail bait and I would give anything to be two years older. So we meet up all the time in secret. He says when I’m eighteen we will really be together, but he also says I will forget all about him by then. But there is no way I could ever forget about him and I am crazy wanting him all the time, even though I’m dating Scott and kissing whoever else I feel like kissing and Connor dates all these girls his age. So I can’t drink too much when he’s around because I will either get all emotional and cry or get pissed at him, like at the Lifeguard Ball last year, when we got in a fight and I threw my drink in his face. My mom knows all about him. At first she was freaked out but I told her how he never pressures me to do anything, unlike the boys my own age who are on a mission to get some at all times. She says I’ve always been an old soul and Connor says I’m way more mature than most of the twenty-year-olds he goes out with. That makes me think I am destined for an older man.
Anyway, even with all that drama, I’m happier here at the beach during the summer that any other time. And it’s not just the partying and guys and all that. I love being at Gammy’s house during the week when it’s so quiet. When I was little I was only there with, like, my whole family, aunts and uncles and cousins and maybe Great Uncle Whoever thrown in. It was always loud and crowded and that was really fun and all but there is something about it when it’s just Gammy and Boppy and me. Gammy makes me breakfast every morning. An egg and toast. I mean, I have not had to eat Puffed Wheat one time! She thinks I’m great because I always wake up on time for work without even using an alarm clock even when I’m hung over. I help with the dishes and make my bed and all that without her reminding me.
When no one else is around we actually get to do things together, just the two of us. Back in the day when all my family was swarming all over the house I was just another kid to be shooed out of the way. But now it’s just me, and my grandmother is fun. On my last day off she dragged me out of my bed to the strawberry patch to get pick berries for her homemade jam. We spent the whole morning picking picking picking until my back was killing me and sweat was dripping in my eyes, but I couldn’t complain. She seemed fine and she’s almost eighty so how could I bitch about MY back? When we got home she showed me how to Blah Blah Blah about canning. Even though I usually hate anything to do with cooking I was stoked to see all those jars lined up in the cupboard and think that everyone would have yummy jam for their toast all summer.
She has tons of books and she is always getting more from the little town library she founded. Sometimes she’ll grab something extra for me, like a novel about Native Americans or the Civil War because she knows I love that kind of stuff. We sit on the front porch after dinner in those ancient white wicker chairs that are so uncomfortable. We just read and read until it’s too dark and the mosquitoes start biting. One night when we were sitting there I looked over at her hands holding her book. I noticed how similar they are to mine. I looked down at our bare feet. We have the same high arch and tiny short toes. The same as me, just a little worn out. And I thought about how everyone says I look so much like her, but with blond hair. I looked at her face and wondered, “Is that what I’ll look like when I’m old?”
I’d never thought about it before. I pictured Gammy zipping around on her bike and swimming in the ocean in her flowery bathing suit with the little skirt and throwing candy at little kids from the top of the library’s float in the Fourth of July parade. I can’t imagine being old, but I guess if I have to get there someday being like Gammy would not be so bad.
The very best time was when Gammy looked through the photo albums with me. She has all these photo albums filled with old black and white pictures. I mean, like really old from the eighteen hundreds, when everyone just glared at the camera and no one smiled. I love all kinds of old stuff. History is my favorite subject; I told you I’m an old soul right? All these pictures are kind of like little bits of history, and all the people are related to me. There are wedding photos and women with long dresses and tiny umbrellas and men in top hats and little teeny girls with hair bows as big as their heads. Gammy pointed out a tiny old woman in a black lace dress with a tall collar and told me, “That’s Grandma Brice. Your dad is named after her.”
She showed me pictures of her parents when they were engaged and they looked younger that me and so so so gorgeous. Then it’s Gammy and her sisters as tiny babies in long gowns with lace caps, and I realized little babies always look the same no matter how long ago. And then my favorites: the ones from the lakes up in New York where Gammy grew up.
Everyone smiles in those pictures. People swimming and sunning and sitting at long picnic tables eating from big baskets, because that was before coolers were invented. There’s one of Gammy when she was like ten, and she’s standing in the lake with her hands on her hips. Just grinning at the camera looking all cocky. Then in the next one she’s about my age and she’s looking at the camera in a way that makes me think some cute guy must have been taking the picture. Gammy tells me those days at the lake made her convince Boppy to build the beach house here in Bethany, even when they couldn’t afford it. She didn’t buy a new pair of shoes for three years and the whole family survived on bologna sandwiches so we could all be together every summer down here, just like those times on the lake when she was a kid.
I got a pen and wrote all the names in the little margins on the side, so I will always know who all those people are when I look through the book. For some reason that choked Gammy up a little bit and she kissed me and told me how proud she is of me. I felt good to have her there with me, just me, and felt proud that she’s proud.
The next day she dragged me to church at the crack of dawn. I was so hung over and tired because I snuck out the night before that I was literally falling asleep in the pew; my head was nodding over. It was not a proud moment for either of us.
I’ve even spent some time with Boppy, and I don’t think I’ve even really had a conversation with him in my life. Gammy is so much, I don’t know, bigger than him or more alive or something, that sometimes I forget he’s there. When I come in he just kind of kisses me and says “Hey, darlin’” and goes back to whistling and humming whatever that tune is that he always whistles and hums. But the other day he noticed me reading a book about the Depression and got out a map and showed me how he hitchhiked from Illinois to California with his brother during the Dustbowl. It was the most I’ve ever heard him talk.
He makes me laugh the way he talks about Gammy. He calls her my bride. Like when he calls the library looking for her he says, “Hello, this is Ted, has anyone seen my bride?” The other morning I came downstairs for work early and they did not hear me on the stairs, you know, they’re old after all. Boppy has cataracts and Gammy was helping him with his eye drops. I watched him get down on his knees in front of her. He had to hold her hands to keep from tipping over. He rested his hand on her hip and she squeezed the drops into his eyes. He stayed there for a couple seconds, looking up at her, and I thought, that is how he asked her to marry him. She pulled him back up on his feet, and he patted her on the back and they just went on about their day. I’m glad they did not see me. I wonder what it feels like to love someone for so long.
A loud whistle blast brings me back and I notice the day has gotten dark and the water is glowing gray-green. A thunderstorm has come up quick like they do around here. The lifeguards are trying to clear the beach. They will help me scoop up all my umbrellas, because obviously the big metal frames on the things are like giant lightning rods. I pitch them all into the box without counting them or folding them. I can always come back later and straighten up. Right now I just want to get my ass of the beach. Some guy got struck a couple weeks ago down in Ocean City and I’ll be damned if I’m joining him just to make sure Ron Steen is not missing any rafts or chairs or freakin’ boogie boards. I’ll buy him a new one at the 5&10 if something is missing. I haul ass out of there but the guards have a time convincing the tourists to leave. They paid for their week at the beach and they are going to get their money’s worth even if it means getting fried.
I grab my bag and head over the dune. I’m feeling good because now I’m off work early, and maybe I can head up by the guardhouse and see if I run into Connor. We can get an ice cream cone and laugh about Mr. Speedo. It’s Friday and I’m sure something will be going on tonight because the guards don’t have to work out tomorrow morning. I guess if there is a party I will go with Scott and Connor will show up with whatever chick he’s hanging out with at the moment. I wonder if we’ll fight or maybe sneak away for a while or maybe it will be one of those nights where we just kind of say, “Hi” and chat for a second and move on. Suddenly my stomach feels a little like the ocean, all mixed up and choppy. For a second I think about my grandparents again and I wonder, what is it like to love someone like that, so peacefully? Have they always been like that? Is a pat on the back happily ever after?