As I am sitting here today, with the rain falling once again, it seems like its been raining all spring.
Its cold and damp. Even a bit dark outside and it's only one-thirty in the afternoon. I only mention this because it also reminds me of those cold, damp, non beach days that were so rare.
I can probably say that over a stretch of some sixteen years, I can count on one hand how many days we missed going to the beach because of rain. When I say that almost every single day at the King of France cottage started out with every intention of a day at the beach I am totally serious.
"Time to get up", my mom would say. "We're going to the beach".
Even if it looked gray outside, we were up and ready for another day on the sand. We'd pack a sweat shirt and maybe socks too, other than that, we dressed in our bathing suits with tee shirt on and headed out the door. I always wore sneakers, I hated walking barefoot in the street. There I am, three feet tall, waddling down the road with a towel tucked under my arm and an tin beach pail full of Tonka trucks. My brother probably had a beach chair, a towel and a transistor radio. He might be carrying a baseball glove too.
Depending on the day, it could have been any one of my aunts or uncles walking us down to the beach. On the weeks my dad was there, he would always be one of the first ones out and down to the beach.
Once we were on the abandoned stretch of gray sand, we'd stake a claim to a spot. There are not too many people on the beach this day, mostly those who walked or jogged and a few of the other regular die hard beach fanatics, us included.
Damp days were best for ball games and sandcastles. With all the open space and especially if the tide was out, we could all have a good game of whiffle ball or something like that. Digging in the sand was fun too, and on a gray day we wouldn't have the sun beating down on our backs.
Gulls flocked the beaches picking over small crabs and shells. The seaweed might be thicker too, because the gray sky usually meant that the seas were pretty rough out there, a storm was either on the way or had passed through in the night.
As the morning wore on, a few more people might arrive. By noon the beach had a regular crowd on it. If the rain had held off that long, people were going to come to the beach. Even if it meant sitting there, on your blanket wearing a bathing suit and a giant sweatshirt.
Occasionally the sun might peek out but the clouds held strong. A sure sign of a storm at sea, on these days there were no boats on the horizon. No tiny triangles of white sliding across the edge of the sea in the distance. Dark spots in the Atlantic showed up and in the waves we saw the swirls of brown rubbery seaweed. A little farther down the beach at Surfside, there might be a few guys in wetsuits trying to catch a wave or two.
We knew at some point we would be taking a walk. Some days it was only towards the rocks at the closer end of the beach, towards Paragon Park. We might pop up onto the boardwalk to watch the people dancing at the bandstand.
On other days, we might head the other way, stopping to look at rocks, shells or sea glass along the way.
We were also headed in the direction of the Penny Candy store. If it was one of those days we were just as happy. The Penny Candy store as I mentioned earlier, was a great place to go. Penny candy. A huge pail filled with candy! We also might wind up with one of those little plastic parachute guys or a new Frisbee.
After I would pick out about a hundred sweet tart candies, giant pixie stix, and some gum, I had to make the choice of what I wanted to eat first! I always wanted to eat the pixie stix right away out of fear that they would get lumpy from the moisture in the air, but had to wait till we were back at the cottage because you needed to cut off the plastic end of the tube to eat it and we didn't happen to carry scissors in our swimsuits. We were only allowed to have one candy on the walk back. The rest we'd save for the remainder of the vacation, or sooner if we were sneaking into our pails!
Back to the blankets and it might be lunch time. Someone is either headed to Carl's or over to the Surfside Restaurant for food. Lunch some how tasted better on these rainy days, maybe because it was a bit chilly out and the warm burgers made us feel warmer or, it could have been because we were dry, we didn't have sticky salt water washed hands and weren't eating a ton of sand with our food. This seems so funny now, "go wash your hands in the water before you eat", yeah wash your hands in a puddle of sea water, mud and brine shrimp!
If the skies cleared a bit, we might get a kite up in the air. ( Visions of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in the thunder and lightning .) The black bat kite or the white ones with the bloodshot eyes. Flying high over the beach, trying to make sure that they don't suddenly dip and nose dive at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour into the surf or onto the sand. These kites would snap instantly when they hit the ground rendering them entirely useless for the rest of the day only minutes after taking its virgin flight.
If we got one up in the air, it might stay there for the day, with possibly several different people controlling its flight. There is only so long that you can hold a kite, the wind is pulling it up there tightly, tiny rope burns begin to form on your hands. You either trade if off to someone, or stake it to the ground for the day.
We often had several different things going on at the same time. Someone was flying the kite, others were playing smash ball or Frisbee, and someone else would be dragging a long piece of seaweed. Tonka trucks were strewn out every where, tiny roadways cut into the sand. Little kids pushing Tonka's mighty dump truck up and over a mound of sand or through some rocks. Someone over there is playing with a little plastic boat in a what amounts to nothing more than a puddle of sea water and mud and
the adults would sit and chat. Reading a book, newspaper or magazine. Mostly watching other people.
There never seemed to be an end to what we could have done on that beach. I really can't remember any really boring beach days.
If we cut the day short because it was just too cold, we might wind up over at Playland for some skee ball.
Someone might make a laundry run or even take a short drive down to the grocery store provided there was car available. There may even have been a trip to the old bowling alley. Today, the bowling alley building houses the Nantasket Clarion hotel
Rainy nights usually would be good for some television if it was really bad. But most of those nights, we would still sit out on the back porch looking out over the bay. We'd watch to see if the park was going to light up or shut down. The rain water streaming over the edge of the roof, a waterfall pouring down in front of us. Paragon Park might be still open, but there was no click clack of the Comet to be heard.
Someone inside the cottage is probably reading a book, or in the kitchen with a cup of coffee a cigarette and they are still talking. Laughter can be heard on most of these nights. In fact it can be said that laughter was probably heard EVERY night. Yes, now I'm sure of it. Every night.
Some rainy nights Bill Warwick would come in, soaking wet.
Even though Bill stayed at the cottage too, we never really saw him much because he was down on his boat, while we were at the beach and he may have often times, simply gone back to Boston for a few days. Water running off his raincoat, his fisherman's cap all soggy. Bill's white hair matted to the back of his head. He might have some dinner for us, if anyone down at the salt water club had gone out and made a catch and had some to spare or Nana would have saved him a plate and they would just sit and eat together. Other nights he might just have a book to read and would sit in the chair all night reading by the fireplace.
I only remember a few times when we actually got that old fireplace lit. And I can't remember if it ever really helped to warm the place up. I seem to remember more, the search for wood and the struggle to keep it lit. Bill would fight that fireplace every time. He'd have to be the one to go under the cottage to gather the firewood. With his flashlight and wet cap, Bill would cut through the cobwebs under the house, fumble around a bit and come back with an arm full of wood. I was under there a few times with him, nothing much to see under there, some old tires, a few cans, maybe an old beach chair. I remember now as I write this, seeing an old bicycle under there too, A few large rocks might have been there and I'm sure there had to be some type of animal living under that house. Mostly though, it was dark and dusty. Cobwebs everywhere and some weeds that might like to grow under cottages with minimal daylight. The firewood we found was mostly just scrap lumber. A few chunks of real firewood, but mostly it was old planks, some broken lattice work and junk.
Now there may have been another problem too. You see, with the usual lack of men in the house on a regular basis, ( remember, all of my uncles and my dad were not usually there unless they were on vacation from work- my father's business being a swimming pool store, required him to be at work during the summer. He usually had a week in August off.) there were no newspapers around either!
Bill often had an old paper laying around somewhere, even if it meant having to back outside in the rain to go through his car. The fire would get lit. The night would wind down.
The next morning came, and we heard: " Time to get up, we're going to the beach!".