Beach Babies

When I was fourteen, I learned about the power that comes with being a woman.

My sisters and I spent our summers with our four unmarried aunts at their cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, and we practically lived in our bathing suits. I was self-conscious about my weight and my new curves, but I had grown up on a beach and was so used to wearing a bathing suit that it didn’t bother me as much as it probably should have. I may not have been comfortable in my skin, but I was comfortable in my Spandex.

Prior to that summer, I was all about swimming or reading in the sun. But that was the year that my sisters decided it was time to induct me into their secret society, which included tanning, trying to look older, and boy-watching.  We didn’t use the lake for swimming anymore; rather, it was a place to rinse off the sand and splash ourselves so that the water glistened on our young, tanned bodies.

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It was usually well before nine a.m. by the time our morning chores were done and we were ready to cross the street to the beach, but it was still too empty.  There were the usual beachcombers and dog-walkers over there, but no one worth our time.

And by “no one worth our time” I mean boys.

Boys in bathing suits.

Lifeguards, to be specific.

Lifeguards who came on duty at nine o’clock sharp.

The summer I was fourteen, my aunts still insisted that we had to spread our towels directly in front of the lifeguard stand if we wanted to go to the beach unaccompanied.  We acted offended, even insulted. After all, we whined, we were old enough to go to the beach without constant adult supervision. It was ridiculous to treat us like children. It was stupid to demand that we set up for the day right there in front of the lifeguards.

It was also exactly where we wanted to be.

Come on, the lifeguards wore little red swimming trunks. And nothing else. Well, they wore sunglasses and whistles, but I really didn’t notice those things.

We got to know all the guys by name. There was Randy, who was so cute that even Aunt Marian referred to him as “Precious,” and his brother Tim, who looked remarkably like a blonde Christopher Reeve. There was Dave, who was terribly worried about having to go into the water and potentially damage his Sebago Docksiders. And there was a freakishly tall fellow whose nickname, “The Big Wazoo,” always made me blush and glance involuntarily groinward, because I was naïve but not that naïve.

At fourteen, I had a lot of friends who were boys, but no actual boyfriends. I liked boys. I liked spending my time with boys who were my friends, but as soon as I liked one for anything more than that, I lost the ability to think and/or speak. I felt fat and plain and stupid.

Being on the beach, in my bathing suit, just a few yards from hot older boys in bathing suits, did all kinds of crazy things to my hormones. One minute, I’d have the confidence to strut my stuff past the lifeguards, carefully placing my steps in line just right to give my hips just enough swing. The next minute, I’d want to throw a baggy sweatshirt over my bare skin and bury myself in the sand.

I knew the lifeguards were all too old for me, but that didn’t stop me from learning to flirt. We’d turn up our little battery-operated radio to WLS out of Chicago and giggle to Larry Lujack’s “Animal Stories” while darting sidelong glances up at those lifeguards in their red trunks and sunglasses, and then my sisters taught me how to slow down and make a big show out of rubbing Hawaiian Tropic or Bain De Soliel oil on my skin.

After a day in the sun, we’d stroll casually past all of the boys on the beach and break into a run when we got close enough to the cottage to race for the shower room. We’d battle it out, dress in cutoffs and spaghetti straps, paint on our royal blue mascara and Bonnie Bell LipSmacker, and set up our beach chairs on the front porch for the night’s show that began near sundown.

The Seashell, home to the Girls Behind the Wall
The Seashell, home to the Girls Behind the Wall

Back then, there were no beach curfews or noise ordinances.  Local teenage boys and young men would jump into their muscle cars or even their family station wagons, and dedicate the next three hours to slowly circling Lake Shore Drive at a roaring speed of less than ten miles per hour. They played their music much too loud, with thumping bass notes that stirred something I so desperately wanted to be stirred but was too afraid to really let go.

My sisters and I would rock our chairs back and put our feet up on the railing, almost – but not quite—giving a perfect view of our butts in our cutoff shorts.  We got whoops and hollers and more than our fair share of catcalls, and quite possibly a few mild fender-benders that could have been blamed on us, but my sisters always advised me to almost ignore.

We never hollered back or even waved. Just an occasional half-smile or quick bit of eye contact, but that was it. We were good girls; we weren’t ever the type to jump into a car with any of those boys, even though the other girls in neighboring houses were always squealing and giggling and going for a ride with someone at less than ten miles per hour.

Years later, I learned that the local boys referred to us as “The Girls Behind The Wall” because of the white wall that surrounded our courtyard. They also called us “The Blonde Girls” or simply “The Sisters,” along with a lot of other not-so-nice names that, in retrospect, we probably really deserved. We were snobs, and we treated those boys deplorably, but it sure was good for my ego.

And it was fun.

When I was fourteen, I learned how to flirt, and how to feel both beautiful and powerful. For good or for bad, I learned the word tease.

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When I was fourteen . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kerrie from Diagnosed and Still Okay, and Dana from Kiss My List. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

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18 thoughts on “Beach Babies

  1. I felt ALL OF THIS. I loved how you learned the word “tease” but before that, felt the power that just being a girl was, back then. Harmless and sweet and whatever if it was snobby – it was your way of being and having power and OMG I wish I lived back then, with you, behind the wall. Because that sounds like huge fun.

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    • Too many girls (and grown women) don’t understand the power that we can have. It’s not about sex — it’s about confidence and control, and I wish I still had a little bit of that confidence today.

      It really was fun living at the cottage back then. I miss the closeness I shared with my big sisters, and I sometimes feel bad that my daughter never got the chance to have that kind of relationship. She’s got brothers, and I know they all love each other, but there’s just something that sisters share that can’t really be explained.

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  2. This truly sounds like a “good old day” post. Though you didn’t mention a year, the royal blue mascara made me relate to the time. I enjoyed your memory which was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I got boobs way too early and was always self conscious of them.

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    • I was always self-conscious, too, but there was just something about living in a beach town where everyone wore bathing suits all the time. I was more comfortable in a bathing suit than I was in jeans and a t-shirt!

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  3. You’re adorable in the picture! I was a sun worshiper, too. It was fun. Your aunts crack me up. You had a lot more confidence than I did at fourteen, which is wonderful. If I had my fourteen year-old bikini body now, look out!

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    • Alas, both the confidence and the fourteen year-old bikini body are distant memories by now! Of course, we never knew until years later that the aunts were all four lined up on the front porch with binoculars, watching every move we made on the beach. Except Aunt Marian — I think she was probably watching “Precious.” 🙂

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    • I cringe, too, now that I have a 17 year-old daughter who is much prettier and far more confident than I ever was. I wish I could force her to wear baggy sweats and hide in the shade all day long, because I never want her to act like I did.

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    • Oh, I definitely don’t wear cut-off shorts any more! Lol . . . Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how to feel beautiful and powerful, but I hope it’s a lesson we can all pass down to our daughters.

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  4. Loved your comment that your aunts – well, with the exception of Aunt Marian of course – had the binoculars tuned on you and your sisters. You must have also made their summers, too! The house must have been pretty quiet when you all left.
    I laughed at the adulation of the guards. My daughter – 21 – is now a lifeguard/instructor at college and my son -19 – coaches swimclub during the summers. To me, they really are kind of young, but to the swimmers? Hmmm. You’ve got me thinking that I’d love to hear what the swimmers say about my two …

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    • You know, Kelly, the strangest part was that the lifeguards were always too old for me but my sisters both dated a few of them. Then I missed one summer at the beach because I got a summer job in town and stayed home with my mom . . . and when I went back the following summer, the lifeguards were girls! I totally missed my shot at dating a lifeguard!

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  5. I didn’t have that confidence when I was 14, or at least I don’t remember feeling that way. But you swept me up in your memories. Strutting your stuff one minute and hiding under a baggy sweatshirt the next: that is adolescence in a nutshell!

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