Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beaching It

My parents, grandparents, and me on our beach house patio.
My dad is holding our dachsund, Oscar. 

All right, who am I kidding?  It is just not even remotely possible for me to stop reminscing about my past.  In my last post I brazenly wrote, "That's it, I'm moving on to present day now."  But then I started thinking about impending summer and its associated activities, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- my mind goes to my grandparents' old beach house in Malibu.  I can't help it, I'm a sucker for nostalgia.  I'm also probably mentally going there because I'm getting ready to spend the summer in California, and, for me, that feels nostalgic too, as that is where I feel most at home.  Houston is wonderful in many ways, but, when I think about specifically where I really feel most like me, it would have to be the state that I grew up in (as is probably true for most people).  So, with that being said, and in order to start the summer off right, I have to describe what was one of the true highlights and beauties of my youth.

My grandparents, Milton and Pat (such throwback names -- really, can we please bring back the name, "Milton?"), owned a beach house in Trancas, which is a few miles past Malibu.  The house itself was simple and unadorned, though spacious and comfortable.  The walls were all white, inside and outside, and the floor was dark brown Mexican tile.  The back patio, where we ate most of our meals, was brick, and beyond that were pockets and hills of iceplant, usually blooming with little yellow flowers.  Beyond the iceplant was, of course, the beach.  When I was little, we used to burn our feet on the sand trying to run from the patio to the ocean, as the beach itself was so wide.  But later, with erosion, the water came up much, much closer, and now I've heard the water comes right up to the patio.  This makes me sad for three reasons.  One, for the fact that since my grandparents died I haven't been back to see the beach house and what's become of it.  It's now long lost to me, a piece of my heart and memory that I'll never experience again.  Two, because the earth is changing so much -- with erosion, global warming, etc. -- and to be able to witness changes like this reiterates that the earth, like ourselves, is perpetually shifting.  What once seemed like the most consistent thing in the world to me -- this beautiful stretch of beach -- has all but disappeared.  And three, because it reminds me that I'm getting, oh God, old.

Anyway, it was along this beach that I had some of my favorite summertime memories.  The first thing we would do upon arrival was make a beeline for the ocean.  Once in the surf, my brother, Andy, and I played a hellish little game called, "Whose Body Can Go Numb Faster?"  The water really is that cold.  After we were sufficiently numb, we would dive and bodysurf, and let the waves pummel us into pulp.  (A few years later I actually attempted surfing...once.  It wasn't pretty, in fact, it was downright ugly.)  Eventually my eyes and lungs would stop functioning due to an inordinate amount of ingested saltwater, and I would bundle up in a towel and crawl beneath one of the many scattered catamarans ashore the beach.  I would then lay on my stomach, press my ear firmly into the sand, and eavesdrop upon the world around me.  I could hear the rhythmic pound of the ocean, people's footsteps in the sand, grownups' garbled voices, dogs sniffing and shaking out their coats, everything.  No one could see me, though I could see everything, and I would stay there for hours, observing, absorbing, being.  It was total peace.

Total peace, that is, until my reveries were interrupted by our nosy dachsund, Oscar, who would always sense just exactly where I was, and eagerly flounce to me, his ears flapping in the wind.  Once he had finished licking my neck and sneezing sand in my face, he would flap his way over to my grandparents' neighbors, who were none other than Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Ronald Reagan was Governor of California at the time, and who would've thunk it, but he loved dachsunds!  The Governor used to sit on a beach chair in front of his house, put Oscar on his lap, and pet that lucky dog for hours.  They adored each other!  This is actually the farthest anyone from our family ever got in affairs of state, though we still stake claim to this little nugget of political fame.

On the other side of my grandparents' house lived an elderly husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs Trumble.  The gentle, yet spritely, couple both swam in the ocean each and every day, and when Mr. Trumble passed away, Mrs. Trumble continued to swim a mile daily.  I would go over to the Trumbles' and play for whole afternoons, creating tuneless songs on their piano, fussing with their trinkets, talking Mrs. Trumbles' ear off.  It's funny that I still remember them and these afternoons so vividly, and it must be because they were so deeply patient and kind with me.  They graciously opened their home and their hearts to me, and I could color a scribble and they oohed and aahed like it was a masterpiece.

My grandparents, too, were proud of me to a fault.  I could do no wrong in their eyes, and they thought I was the most beautiful and special little girl in the world.  The nights we slept over, my grandmother would lay with me until I went to sleep, and, as we told stories to each other and listened to the soothing cadence of the waves, I remember never feeling safer or more secure.  And I suppose that is why I am writing this tribute, not only to the beach and the beach house, but to my grandparents, as well.  They have been gone for so, so long, but in me they embedded a knowledge that I could do anything and be anything.  And, now that I think about it, that's really what grandparents do best, isn't it?

My summers at the beach house were an innocent, tranquil time in my life -- I have never felt more peaceful, or more protected, or more loved.  And I know that a piece of me will always exist at that house, no matter what happens to it, or to the coastline around it.  It was a haven for me, and it will continue to be so in my heart.

And, in case you're wondering (and, perhaps, a tad nauseous), yes, I'll probably always be this annoyingly sentimental -- but, really, when the world is as chaotic as it is, can you blame me?


  1. Andy has great memories of the beach house too. How nice it must be to have that. I'm sorry I never got to go there.
    I remember for about half a second Andy & I were almost going to get married there.

  2. Touching! And moving...I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. Except the Reagans.