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.


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!

Cheese, Bees, and Bologna

At the end of each summer, I always feel antsy.  Ready to go on an adventure.  I feel like something big is coming, and I have to get ready for it.

I live in Michigan, so the “something big”” is usually winter, but my sense of restlessness is more than that.  I need to travel, to jump in my car and just go somewhere.  Anywhere.  I want to grab a giant, icy bottle of Diet Coke and a couple of old favorite CDs and bellow, “Road Trip!” with no specific destination in mind.

Maybe it’s because of the old Color Tours my aunts used to take us on when my sisters and I were little.  We’d pile into the family car and just drive and drive and drive all day, looking at all of the beautiful fall colors.  We’d end up lost, of course.  There’s never been a person in my family with any sense of direction, so we always got lost.

Eventually we’d stop for a picnic lunch of crackers, Colby cheese, and huge chunks of ring bologna.  We might stop at a quiet spot on the side of the road, or a pretty picnic area at a public park.  Sometimes, we just rolled the windows down and ate in the car.

One year, we stopped at a scenic little spot beside an inland lake.  I seem to remember an old stone wishing well, but I could be wrong.  By the time we got our food out and ready to eat, we discovered that the place was infested with bees, and that picnic was forever after referred to as the year we ate “cheese, bees, and bologna” for lunch.

We usually ended up in the Allegan State Park at the end of the day, crunching along over the crisp leaves while Aunt Marian tried to teach us to whistle through acorn caps.  My sisters both mastered it, but I never quite got the knack.  That’s all right though, because I can still out-whistle both of them the usual way.

I havent gone on a Color Tour in years.  Fall has become such a busy time for me.  My daughter is a cheerleader, my son is in the marching band, and high school football games are practically mandatory for all citizens in a town this small.  There are back-to-school activities and routines, and getting ready for winter.  Busy, busy, busy.  No time for random drives through the countryside.  Besides, the cost of gas is ridiculous.  We lived on forty wooded acres, for crying out loud.  We could see the fall colors just fine from the living room window, thank you very much.

I told myself that the “antsy” feeling was all about being nervous about winter.  I didn’t need to travel aimlessly around on foolish road trips to nowhere.

This year, though . . . this whole year has been a lot like waking up from a long, restless sleep.  I crawled into a pretty dark cave for a lot of years; depression, an unhappy marriage, and grief will do that to a person.  Coming so close to death in a car accident three years ago should have been my wake-up call, but I don’t think I was ready to open my eyes just yet.  I wasn’t ready to face the world until the day I looked deeply into my husband’s eyes and realized that we both knew it was time to stop pretending.

I’m never going to be the person I once was.  I’m older, wiser, and sadder.  Life didn’t turn out the way I expected it to; the little girl who tried to whistle through acorn caps is long gone, but her restlessness is back with a vengeance.

It’s almost fall in Michigan.  It’s ridiculously hot for September, but I know fall is coming.  It’s bringing cool night air and blustery mornings, crispy orange leaves and the smell of bonfires.  It’s coming, and it’s telling me to go.  Somewhere, anywhere.  Just go.  Grab the keys, cheese and bologna and hit the road for points unknown.

I’m ready for adventure.


This post was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.