One of the greatest things about growing up in a coastal city is the fun of day tripping to the beach. Back in the day, my family made frequent trips to the beach on Sunday afternoons. After church, mom would pack a picnic basket. The kids would back some clothes for the return trip, jump into our swimsuits and head out to an afternoon of fun in the sun. It took only about 45 minutes to make the trip from our home on the Westside to the beach but the impatience of youth sometimes made it seem like hours.
Like most east coast beaches, the “First Coast” beaches of Northern Florida have boardwalks and pavilions and carnival like recreation areas. But the true lure of the coast is the wide sandy beaches themselves at low tide. We would plan out beach trips for low tide so we could take full advantage of the afternoon. You see, back in those days, we were allowed to drive our family car out onto the beach itself. The advantage of this is that you could drive far enough from the beach access ramp to gain a little privacy. Dad would drive the car as close to the water as possible so we would not have to walk far to get to the surf. This was for safety as well as for convenience because there was a real danger from the cars driving on the beach. Every summer, there would be a tragedy when a young kid was hit by a car on the beach. This became quite a problem when the population grew and more and more people were on the beach every weekend. The city councils of the beach communities eventually passed laws outlawing driving on the beach and another fun pastime slid into the mists of our memories.
Finally we reached the beach, made our way down the ramp onto the wide white sand and turned to find our place in the sun. Once Dad picked the perfect place for the day, the kids all ran to the surf for the first dip of the afternoon while Mom and Dad spread the beach blanket in front of the car for us, set up their beach chairs and spread the picnic banquet. Spreading the blanket in front of the car gave us some shade as the sun began to sink in the west. We would run back to the blanket dripping water and sand that was stuck to our feet. Carefully we sat on the edge of the blanket making sure not to step on it with our feet and get sand all over our picnic.
After lunch, we would begin the classic game of “how long has it been since we ate” as we waited the prerequisite hour after eating before we could go into the water. This was not wasted time as we often brought our gloves and a baseball and played catch with Dad. Sometimes we had a beach ball and we would play with that too. Eventually time for waiting expired and we returned to the surf with Mom and Dad in tow. We had pretty simple water toys back in those days; inner tubes! No not those brightly colored toys manufactured for the beach, these were real inner tubes from automobile tires that no longer could hold the pressure for road use, but they were great for floating in the surf. The waves and the salt water were pretty rough on the ever present patches and after a summer’s use, most of these had to be permanently retired. Some of these inner tubes were recycled into sling shots by my brother and me.
Eventually, the sun began to sink into the sand dunes that formed the land edge of the beach and it was time to head for home. We would take one last dip into the ocean to wash off any sand that would stick to us in our games and carefully walk flat footed back to the car. When we were very young, Mom and Dad would stretch a beach towel between the open car door and the edge of the car and we would strip off our wet bathing suites, dry off and change into clean dry clothes for the ride home. I can still remember that sticky, gritty feeling of the salt from the ocean as we made our way home; tired, sticky and happy joined on Beach Boulevard or Atlantic Boulevard by other families that had their adventures on the beach. Once home, Mom had no problem getting us to take our baths that evening. There was no way you could sleep covered in ocean salt. Oh MY!