Sweating, and cursing, he was done. We (Dad) packed our car as my uncle, who lived on the first floor, packed his. No family ever traveled to the beach alone on a Sunday. It was just part of the ritual.
The caravan left at 10 a.m. for the 28-mile ride to the Narragansett shore. Traveling in our un-air-conditioned, two-door Chevrolet with its small windows, along a two-lane highway choked with traffic took over one hour. My brother and I were hot and impatient.
“Are we there yet?”
“When will we get there?”
“Can we go in the water right away?”
“Can we stay late so we can see the outdoor movies?”
“Did you bring the horseshoes and our baseball gloves and the balls?”
We drove them crazy. Mom and Dad, exhausted before we arrived, remained calm in anticipation of Sunday at the seashore. It was a day away from work and a time to relax. The water tower, the beacon for the beaches … Scarborough, Olivo’s, and Lido’s … arose from the hill and directed us to the shore.
“The beach, the beach! There it is. C’mon. Hurry. Let us out! Let’s go!”
Dad took a deep breath and muttered something like ratsa, frazza, framusus, frammashalaming, and festarus. I looked at his arm. It was red from where he had it resting on the open-windowed door frame.
After Mr. Lido collected his dollar at the entrance, we drove along the grass to a plot of land chosen by the family scouting party. We parked. The grassy dunes framed the views to the shoreline, and what a view it was; simple seashore, bleaming beach, rolling waves, rocks and in the distance, boats. The smell of salt beckoned. Locker rooms and a snack bar were nearby … brown, soft grass was underfoot. It was everything we wanted or needed.
We parked next to my uncle and made a tent by tying sheets and blankets from one car to the other. Ten done, trunks up, cars unpacked, folding chairs and tables out, blankets down, it was time for lunch. The sterno was lit and the macaroni and meatballs were reheated. The aroma of the sauces mixed with the salt air, whetted our appetites and drew us back to the car side. We tasted the savory, thick tomato gravy while we sniffed the salt air and listed to waves crashing in the distance.
How good it was to squeeze a torpedo roll, softened and stuffed with warm meatballs, and take a bite that squished the sauce out of the bread down our cheeks and onto our bare chests. With nothing on but a bathing suit, we had no fear that clothes had to be washed.
Over a hill and in the distance, Italian men were playing bocce, dancing with the joy of victory, shrieking with pleasure – still kids at heart.
After dinner, Dad sat in his car to listen to the Red Sox game; others, Yankee fans because of DiMaggio, Berra, Rizzuto, and Crosetti, listened to Mel Allen on a New York station jammed with static. While the men listened and the women cleaned, we kids staked the shore.
Soft sand led to blue, white-capped water and rolling surf. We danced atop the hot sand while running to cool our feet in the ocean. We stood at water’s edge as the waves rolled in , sinking our feet deeper into trenches of sand hollowed out by the tide. In the distance, the “Block Island Boat” (the ferry to that island), framed by the clear, blue sky, trekked across the rolling waves at it predictable hour.
There was so much to do; crabbing, gathering starfish and periwinkles, shells, rocks, driftwood, and an occasional valuable that washed ashore. We dug to China. We built sand castles and moats. We buried ourselves in the sand. We explored the rocks. But we couldn’t go into the water for two hours after eating! What torture! The adults were convinced that to swim too soon after eating would cause cramps that would drive us to the ocean’s bottom.
Where did they get that idea? Who divined such punishment? I looked at my Dick Tracy watch. “Is it time yet? Can we go in? Aw, c’mon on.”
When we finally made the dash to the ocean, we hyperventilated to stay under water longer, we did flips and somersaults, and we rode majestic waves that tossed us into the shore, like clothes in a dryer. We scraped our bellies. We stumbled up, twirled to get oriented, blew out like whales and ran in again. Our hands were wrinkled from the time in the water. The sun was hot and bright, the water blue and glistening. As late afternoon came and the sun sank lower in the sky, we thought of showering, eating dinner and going to the snack bar.
The locker area was a primitive, gray, wood, open-air building with cold-water showers and wooden stalls with open bottoms that allowed us to see the lower legs of the person changing next door. The male and female lockers looked the same.
There was a day that my aunt, walking with head down and on a mission, entered the men’s locker. No one was around when she showered, but when she went to her stall, she soon realized where she was. As she bent over to pull up her shorts, she spotted the hair legs of a man in the next stall. Mortified, she departed with haste, dragging her suit and towel, head down, moving with small, slapping steps in a near run. She told the story often, laughing while hanging her head in embarrassment.
We scurried in and out of the cold showers, gasping for breath as the frigid water pounded us. It was so refreshing to dry off, towel down the goose bumps, powder up, and put on chinos and a warm soft sweatshirt that smelled as fresh as Ivory soap. To the cars we returned for supper and then to the snack bar with our allowance money. The frozen Charleston Chew was my favorite. After the snack, it was game time, either softball, kite flying, horseshoe pitching, bocce or La Morra.
The sinking sun illuminated the evening sky. We could almost touch the moon and the stars. As the sun set, a soft, moist mist rolled toward us to mark the day’s end. How good we felt! How lucky we were! We were all there; children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Though we wouldn’t be staying for the outdoor movies, and though we envied those who could because they had summer homes, nonetheless we appreciated our good fortune, and we were happy.
Sunday at the beach was the best, and experience to grasp, to rekindle, and to cherish. My God, were we blessed!