A seaside perspective from a beach chair

Published 5:52 pm Friday, June 2, 2017

I’ve never been a girl who liked to “lay out”, the term we use to mean sprawl out on a vinyl lawn chair in the back yard and slather yourself with Hawaiian Tropic so that you will self-baste when the sun’s rays beat down on you and cook your tender skin to a crispy golden brown. The chair’s slickedy straps were supposed to be covered by a cute beach towel but everybody knows beach towels aren’t big enough to cover a lawn chair, and if you were lucky enough to get one of the really groovy oversized towels, then it bunched up and still didn’t cover the chair, and you got sweaty and every bit of exposed skin stuck to the vinyl so that when you finally rose, loopy from sun-stroke and hyped-up on Tab, it felt like you were leaving the top layer of your skin on the chair.

Mama never understood my reluctance to be still and tan. She spent a good deal of her free time every summer in the backyard, elegantly draped across one of our yellow and white striped lounges, slicked -up and smelling like a roasting coconut and making it work for her. I hid out in the house with my books, or down at the playground, and no matter how hard she tried, I was not going to join her in her sun-worshipping.

Even at the beach I never set up a chair. I would walk all morning, seeing what I could see, roaming the sand with my friends. We were a bunch of pirates who met when we were 10 and became such fast friends that our parents coordinated future beach trips so that we’d be on vacation at the same time. One came from Miami, and two were from New Jersey, and along with our brothers, we were in charge of that beach for a week every summer. We were benevolent dictators, and we feared no adult – mostly because they tossed us out of our condos every morning after breakfast with instructions not to return until lunch, unless one of us was bleeding or holding up the liquor store.

We walked and laughed and walked and plotted and sometimes we swam out to the third sandbar, where we’d been expressly forbidden to go. Mama said it was halfway to Cuba but we went anyway, because that’s where the best kid secrets could be told.

As we walked or ran or cartwheeled down the beach, we passed grownups tanning, either in chairs they’d dragged down from the grass or on towels spread directly on the sand, but we didn’t give them another thought.

They may as well have been in another world; aliens with wrinkly skin and huge sunhats peeking through from Stodgyland to our world, the real world, where kids were burnished by the sun without even thinking about it, and drunk on freedom and the power of running in a herd across the sand like wild horses, manes whipping in the sea breeze.

I made my first trip to the sea in a long time last weekend. I went with a friend who likes to lay on the beach, and she was excited about deepening her already ultra-deep tan. I spent a lot of the drive explaining to her that I would not be sun-tanning. Nope, not me. I would get up early and stroll along the sand for a mile or so, and then head back inside to read or nap or otherwise relax. Before we got there, her eye was twitching.

On our first morning, we headed down to the water. It was cool and breezy and there were kids running around everywhere. The toddlers were adorable, all decked out in little long-sleeved UV-protection shirts and French Foreign Legion type hats- you know, the kind that have a wide brim in front and a long mud-flap in the back. They giggled and squealed and ran almost to the edge of the surf and then either giggled and squealed and ran back to Mommy or hollered like they were being killed when the water touched them.

My friend called and ordered two beach chairs, but I assured her that I would only use mine when I came down to watch the sun set over the Gulf, because I don’t use beach chairs.

Then the big kids started walking by, and when the chairs got there, I sat down. They ran in packs, three or four at a time, all coltish legs and salt-stiffened hair flying in their golden faces. The boys toted boogie-boards or footballs and their thin waists curved at angles only available in the memories of grown folks as they cradled their toys, casually striking poses for the girls, “Hey, here I am, about to toss this football in god-like fashion, chick, and you’re gonna want to see me skim across the sand like a boss when I throw this boogie board down.” The girls never noticed, but it was just practice anyhow.

The girls, oh can there be anything more beautiful than a summer-feral girl on the beach? The complete carelessness of their stride, the new throatiness of their laughter, the way the boys follow behind, still a little confused about why they follow, yet compelled. 

Two o’clock found me glued to my chair, having not walked a step down the beach. I hadn’t even opened my Kindle. I sat transfixed, bundled in my cover-up and huge-brimmed hat, slathered in SPF 50 sunscreen to avoid tanning, watching those pirate kids romp and slink and whisper kid-secrets in each other’s ears. They didn’t know I was there. I was watching from Stodgyland.

Pepper Ellis Hagebak is a resident of LaGrange.