I grew up at the beach. While other kids were making do with garden hoses and sprinklers, I was cooling off in the salty waters of the Atlantic, whose surface shimmied a mere 15 minute drive from my house in suburban Virginia. I had my first swimming lesson when I was 10 months old, and I learned to body surf in the ocean by piggybacking on my dad's shoulders, tiny hands grasped firmly around his neck. (It's a wonder we didn't both drown, but this was in the risk-laden 1970s, an era before seatbelt laws, bicycle helmets, and common sense.)
Come summertime, my parents found that the best entertainment for three young kids was also the cheapest. Every weekend morning, my mom would wake up, slip on her swimsuit and beach coverup, and go downstairs to make lunch. While she spread white bread with peanut butter and jelly, pimiento cheese, or pepperoni, lettuce, and mayonnaise (my sister's invention), my dad would haul the old red cooler from the garage and fill it with ice. In would go enough sandwiches to keep us happy all day long, cans of coke and sprite, and pieces of just-ripe fruit. She'd grab a bag of Doritos and some napkins, fill up her sandy beach bag with Coppertone suntan lotion and meat tenderizer (in case anyone had a run in with a jellyfish) and bundle us all into the car along with beach chairs, a big umbrella, and enough pails and shovels for an entire elementary school.
We'd arrive at the shore early in the day and set up camp. The first order of business was to anchor the 400-pound beach umbrella in the sand. (It felt that heavy, anyway.) The closer you got to the water, the easier it was to do because of the way the water seeped into the sand and created a firm foundation. But you had to weight that against the danger of the tide, which was bound to come up up up as the day wore on, and wash away your toys and supplies if you weren't careful.
Once we were ensconced in our little patch of sand, the Most Horrible Part of the Day was upon us: the application of sunscreen. I don't know which of us sqiurmed the most, but none of us liked it. "Mom!" we'd all wail. "We need to get in the water!" These were days when we were happy to swim and play for eight hours at a stretch. While my dad would dig holes to China, we'd hunt for sand crabs, chasing them out of the sand near the waterline and squealing as their scrambling legs tickled our palms. We'd take turns burying my dad beneath rivers of sand, and fashion stalagmite turrets for our sandcastles by dribbling beach mud a bit at a time onto the ground below.