Age Eight: Snow, or Sand?

First trip to the beach: visions of sand and water and warm sun, although I had never seen sand and water. Or at least not that kind of water.

Daddy believed in getting an early start. He got up very early anyway, so leaving at four in the morning seemed like a good idea. We would have half the trip behind us by breakfast time. I remember being feverish the night before, certain that I was coming down with something that would spoil the trip. I couldn’t get to sleep, but then, all too soon, my mother was shaking me awake. We packed ourselves in the car and headed out into the darkness.

We broke our eight-hour trip by stopping for breakfast in Meridian, Mississippi. (The restaurant, Weidmann’s, still exists.) Another four hours in the car, and we finally reached what I now know were the pine barrens of the Florida panhandle, and then, looming on the right side of the car, were these low hills so white they hurt my eyes, and at first I thought there must be some mistake. Was it snow? “That’s it,” my daddy must have said. “That’s the beach.” And then the water came into view, all blues and greens and white foam, and all that sky . . .

The beach and water were wonders to me. But my parents had made one slight miscalculation. We went in March. Apparently, it hadn’t occurred to them that the weather could be nippy in Florida, too.

Chilly Florida beach

Here I am playing on the beach, wearing my fine navy “spring” coat with the big pearl buttons over my red two-piece bathing suit! I seem to be wearing sandals with socks. (There’s a photo of me without the coat, but that one stays private. I was a chunk.)

In spite of the cool weather, I loved the beach, and I still do. There’s something about the power and the vastness of the ocean that humbles and soothes me. Or makes me feel playful and free, like the little girl in this photo.