Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beach days... when one "summered" each summer

One of my favorite summer house rentals: the "tower house" on Tybee Island
Brother Wylly and I in the tower house's back yard playing with a sand pail

Wylly and I in floating around in the ocean with Grandfather Collins

Being out on the beach this weekend has me thinking back to the summers we stayed out on Tybee Island all summer long... the years before we left Georgia and moved up-north. I loved those seeming endless summer days spent out on the sand, in the surf and inevitably on one of my uncle's boats as well.

Every year we rented a house on or near the beach. Mother, us-kids and assorted aunts and cousins would descend upon said beach house en mass; decamping into a variety of rooms. These were the old school beach houses of worn wooden flooring, minimal (or should I say, bare) decor', screened porches alongside front porches and extremely utilitarian bathrooms and kitchens. Quite no-nonsense summer and second homes where the obvious emphasis was on being outside above all else. Battered furniture, dog-eared paperback books, seashells lined up on window sills and such was just par for the course. Screen doors slamming, water hoses being turned on and bacon frying were the sounds of those carefree days that still evoke memories for me today. This morning as I squirted out sunscreen from a squeeze bottle, I remembered those Coppertone ads of yesteryear with the little girl and the dog pulling her bathing suit. I love the smell of sunscreen and salt air because so much of my growing-up years (as well as times now) associate pleasantries with the combination of these two scents.

We enjoyed over the years several summer rental houses but my favorite was the "tower house" we had where my older brother got to sleep in one tower and I got to sleep in the other. That was so much fun! It felt like a double-adventure for us with having our own rooms, least not these being tower rooms. The only downside to this particular adventure was my loosing a charm bracelet (granted a cheap, touristy charm bracelet) down into the gap that was between my built-in bed and the wall. Both were made of hard wood and try as we might, we couldn't get down far enough to retrieve this bracelet. I'm guessin' that it's still there: tightly wedged between the wall and the bed's frame.

Every summer, aside from trinkets like my bracelet and such, mother took the three of us children for an annual stocking-up trip to nearby T.S.Chu's department store. I loved that place as a child with its long rows of cedar wood boxes, seashell picture frames and fake pirate kitsch inevitably painted with, "Tybee Island, Georgia" or "Savannah, GA" in small black letters. However, we kids were promptly directed towards the bathing suit and beach towel sections where we'd get kitted-out into that summer's beach gear. As well, every single summer it was the following for our cheap rubber flip-flops: James had green ones, I had yellow ones and Wylly had blue ones. There was no question then as to whose were whose which was rather smart on my mother's part. I'm sure we were enough to keep up with all of our running around the beach and the island's side streets.

T.S.Chu's also had a really creepy old mechanical mannequin Madame Fortune-Teller with which one used to be able to put in a quarter and watch her hand move over the cards in the box and a paper fortune would pop out below for you to read. Her fortune telling days have long been over but each time I'm over on Tybee visiting some of my aunts, uncles and cousins living there, I drop by the store and look for her. The last visit, she had been tucked into a dark corner of the store and when I asked if she was for sale, or could be considered being for sale, no one could help me find out an answer to this question. One of these days I'm going to write a short story with her as its main character... if Stephen King doesn't get to this idea and atmospheric-ethos first ;)

And so weeks and weeks each early childhood summer for me were filled with sun, sand, surf and afternoon naps after lunch "playing possum" (aka, pretending that we were asleep) so that my younger brother would finally settle down for his nap. Weekends were when my father would come in on the train and inevitably bring along both sets of grandparents too who were best friends as well as in-laws. This was when our cheese sandwiches and canned soup meals would dramatically change into picnic lunches and seafood suppers out with all the huge glasses of sweet iced tea I could possibly drink. It was such a fun time overall and a great way to spend our summers together as a family and extended family.

Now that I live on an island myself only a few seconds away from our small beach here and about 15 minutes away from one of the bevvy of big-beaches around, summertime sundry things like bottles of sunscreen, beach towels n' bags and such are kept out almost year-round here at the house. Even in the winter months, you can find me hopping out to the beach for a quick de-stressing spot of time found within our family's schedules. There's always a bit of sand grit somewhere in the house and seashells line the windowsills yet the plain interior spaciousness that defines for me a summer beach-retreat is obviously not possible in a house that we make our home within year-round.

But sometimes, some days I can close my eyes and think that I'm almost back to those wondrous summering days of yore...


  1. We are renting a house for a week in June down at the coast. I can't wait. We took the kids last year and stayed in a hotel, but I think this year will be much more fun right on the beach. Also not having to eat out every night!

    My James is considering a permanent move for us to NC or GA. Are you familiar with Lexington/Salisburg, NC or Meridian, GA? I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm a sixth generation Texan and the thought of moving away makes me a little distraught!


  2. Just looked at my calendar and (thank goodness!) I will be at either PI or Edisto for four weekends in at row in May/June! Heavens, I love South Carolina...

  3. Hi Jen!

    Oh, that's going to be so much fun with the beach house... it's such a different "vibe" than a hotel room and I know ya'll will love it especially with it being right on the beach, fun!

    I wish I knew those areas to help you out; good luck with the decision-making. It's hard I know. When our family moved from our Savannah/Macon life to Wisconsin leaving all the rest of both sides (and several-generations-strong) back in Sav, you'd thought the world had ended but... it turned out fine and we've come-back-nearby which has been nice a few decades later. Both the south and the north are now in my life-journeying n' perspective which is neat.

    Let me know if you move and how all that goes... and have a great time in June at the beach too :)

    Best, Lachlan

  4. Hi bevy! If you make it over to the Beaufort area, please give me a heads-up and we could meet in-town for lunch or coffee...wouldn't that be fun?

    Both places are awesome and what-fun to be planning for those months as the weather here isn't quite blistering at that point, wheh! Today I was out with a friend at Hunting Is. beach and it was cool n' breezy but still sunny which was wonderful. So wonderful that I wanted to stay longer but evening church service was calling me so... :)

    Best to you, Lachlan

  5. Your post is great. I also loved the sparseness of our rented summer beach houses in Florida. What I remember most was that smell---wood and ocean air---in the beach house and the nights playing board games with the yellow light over the kitchen table. These days, those types of beach houses, at least up here in the North, are long gone. Everyone here tries to build bigger and grander beach houses than their neighbors, sometimes knocking down two or three smaller houses to make room for one big one, making affordable rentals nonexistent for us (me) more common folk. *Sigh*

  6. Hi Elizabeth! Yes, I'm with ya' there... the beach McMansions being built really have nothing-on an old fashioned authentic beach house experience. It's so sad to see these shabby chic stalwart places being torn down.