Almost 50 years ago now, I spent long, lazy days at Higgins Beach smoking Parliaments and basting myself with baby oil while casting an appreciative eye over the hard, brown, oiled bodies of young ladies from all over the Portland area. I thought I’d be young forever and those beach days would never end.
I was wrong about being forever young, but the beach days remain, albeit with a few minor accommodations to age.
The first thing that changed was the beach itself, the mile-long sweep of Scarborough Beach turning out to be a far superior strand to the sandy seaside suburban skirt of Higgins. Sure, you have to put up with the monied elite at either end of the beach, but, in a little ongoing public-private pas de deux between the state and the Sprague family, we, the great unwashed, still claim the vast middle ground, fanning out either side of the Scarborough Beach State Park parking lot with our blankets, towels, Boogie Boards, surf boards, Frisbees, wet suits, folding chairs, coolers, beach umbrellas and sun shelters.
That’s another thing that has changed: the accoutrements of a day at the beach. As a teenager, all I needed to go to the beach was a bathing suit and a towel. I could always bum butts and baby oil. Even as a married man with young children, I looked down upon those poor rubes who bring the burden of chairs and umbrellas to the beach. Might as well just drive down, park on the beach, stay in the car and avoid the nuisance of sun, sand and salt altogether.
Now I’m one of those rubes.
Must have been about five years ago that Carolyn and I broke down and purchased a couple of beach chairs. A towel on the sand had sufficed for a seat or a snooze for decades, but then legs got stiff, backs got cranky and the sensible comfort of a beach chair became more readily apparent. No big deal, just a pair of folding chairs.
Then, too, we became grandparents three years ago. Carolyn seems to recall that we kept our own little girls out of the sun with an umbrella, but I can’t imagine such a thing. Now, of course, when the grandbabies are going to the beach with us, Carolyn borrows a collapsible sun shelter. They are a nuisance, both the carry and erect, but they do suddenly seem necessary. Last week when we went to the beach however, we had to keep moving to get a view of the ocean from behind a sun shelter the size of an army tent. And those folks didn’t even have a baby.
Naturally, sunscreen replaced baby oil long ago. Having broiled myself in oil all my teen years, I now have patches of skin that should probably never see sun again. To that end, I not only lather up with SPF 30 and apply a liberal layer of sun block lip balm, I also wear a fast-drying rash guard T-shirt at all times, on the beach and in the water. Truth be told, I was never much to look at bodily, even less so now, what with my great white torso, brown arms and gray head.
When it comes to sun protection, I have never worn sunglasses, a battered baseball cap being all that’s needed to keep sun off head and out of eyes. I used to scoff at my fair-skinned sister-in-law, a scientist who appreciated the damaging effects of the sun’s rays long before I did, when she wore a muumuu and a big floppy straw sunhat at the beach. (And I still scoff at surfers in wet suits.)
Earlier this summer, however, in a moment of weakness, I allowed Carolyn to talk me into (or I talked myself into) purchasing a cheap Panama Jack beach hat, a floppy straw affair with a band of turquoise beads and cowry shells, at a beach shop in Old Orchard Beach. (We were there for the French fries, not the beach.)
For a day or so, I fancied that the floppy hat made me look like an old beach bum, maybe an aging poet, at least a cool guy. It didn’t. I could tell by the looks I got the one day I wore it on the beach. You have to draw the line somewhere, and my line in the sand is a beach hat. Sunscreen, lip balm, T-shirt, ball cap, beach chair, OK. Umbrella for the babies, I guess so. But you’ll never catch me on the beach in a wet suit or stupid beach hat.