Fun at the beach

Rick Ryckeley's picture

The sun kissed the horizon and slowly started to fade; the bright sky of blue transitioned to soft hues of purple, yellow, and pink. Sweltering heat of a June day at the beach had finally been replaced with a cool breeze off the ocean.

Hand in hand, The Wife and I walked as the receding tide tugged white sands from beneath our steps, tickling our souls. We were alone with only the gentle breaking of waves for company. I stopped, pulled her close, and as we kissed, the last rays of sunlight finally gave in to the rising night.

Only one thought came to mind. Beach vacations certainly have changed a lot since I was a kid growing up at 110 Flamingo Street.

Every summer my three brothers, The Sister and I looked forward to being crammed into the avocado green station wagon with the faux wood panels and heading south to the white sands of Panama City Beach, Fla. After six hours of riding and fighting in a car with no air-conditioning, only two bathroom stops along the way, we finally hit the beach.

We begged Dad to rent a place at the busiest part of the strip, right across from Miracle Strip Amusement Park, and the Abominable Snowman ride. Why the Abominable Snowman lived at the beach, I don’t really know. But he had one cool ride nonetheless.

Once we were on the beach, the air filled with footballs, Frisbees, and an occasional stray volleyball. In either direction sunbathers were as far as the eye could see. We’d dig for miniature moon crabs, sand fleas, and seashells in the surf. And of course we couldn’t wait to get our little hands on skim boards. Fifty years later beach vacations are somewhat different.

Instead of driving six hours south, I’d rather drive 30 minutes north to the airport. In less than an hour we can be at the beach.

But if we have to drive, then the oil, tire pressure and especially air-conditioning will be checked. The GPS will be programed to notify us when a coffee shop or all-important rest stop is near, both of which are not to be missed.

Reservations would’ve been made months in advance at the hotel farthest away from the footballs, Frisbee tossing, skim boarding and sunbathing crowd that completely covers the beaches down at the strip.

On our beach vacation as kids, we dug in the surf for sand fleas, moon crabs, and seashells. Back up on the beach we’d spend hours building sandcastles complete with deep moats that filled with water with the rising tide.

The best time on the beach was between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. We’d cover ourselves with tanning lotions or baby oil. Baking for hours in the sun was a must. After all, deep sunburn once a year was not only proof of a stay at the beach, but a rite of passage for the young. Things sure have changed as we gotten older.

Now The Wife and I cover up with sunblock 70, don sunglasses and hats with wide brims. We carry beach chairs, blankets, a cooler, and an extra large umbrella to protect us from the sun. The last thing we want is to lie out on the sand and get skin-cancer-causing sunburn.

While walking on the beach, I wear flip-flops or tennis shoes. I watch out for anything dangerous like bottle caps, glass, broken seashells, or sand castles with moats half-filled with water. Before wading into the ocean, I switch out footwear to reef-runners. There’s all kinds of stuff one could step on out there.

I also dig for sand fleas each day, but find none. Those are elusive little creatures after all.

We’re off the beach by 10, with an evening walk at sunset. In between, we go wherever there’s air conditioning and we can stay out of the sun.

First stop, ribs for lunch inside overlooking the beach through huge picture windows, then a trip to the Miracle Strip.

Alas, the Amusement Park and Abominable Snowman ride are no more. A huge shopping complex complete with boutique shops, multitudes of eating establishments, and perhaps some of the best handmade ice cream at the beach have replaced both.

After five days enjoying the sun and surf, The Wife and I returned back home to the daily grind of regular life. Well rested and with no sunburns, our beach vacation had been just about perfect.

I sat down in front of the computer and started to write. Or so I thought. With a light kiss on the back of the neck The Wife leaned over and gave me a gift – a small bucket of sandy white beach sand.

A week later, I’m still digging. Just know there’re sand fleas in there somewhere.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is storiesbyrick@gmail.com. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]

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