Long after the beach lifeguard left his post for the day and before some of the lyrics to Looking Glass’ number one song Brandy were deemed misogynistic, I travelled with my mom and three siblings to a remote beach west of our tiny town of Crystal River, Florida. I’m not sure why this particular memory is so vivid for me, it’s possibly due to the peace and calm I felt as I witnessed my first unintentional sunset.
Whenever I hear the song Brandy, I immediately envision that day on that beach, where I achieved happiness without even trying while I wore a red bikini and kicked a dime store beachball along a sandy shore. “There’s a port on a western bay, and it serves a hundred ships a day.”
It was early August and my older brother Anthony came along for the ride. He is five years my senior and was often on a more determined, purposeful path, so it was special to have him partake in this journey. With the impromptu instructions from my mom, we hopped in the avocado green station wagon and made our way past the string of condos and brackish water harboring unnerving alligators and water snakes deemed über poisonous. We moved to the west coast of Florida in 1976, and lived just a few miles from the water, but rarely visited the beach, maybe because my dad despised the feeling of sand between his toes. That day we took an unfamiliar long and windy path down a peninsula with wild indigenous cabbage palms both slapping and framing the glistening gulf water vista beyond them.
I was stretched out in the back of the wagon, this was the space I often chose, partly because no one else wanted it and partly because I could be alone, press my face on the cold steel surface and feel the hum of the engine vibrating through my jaw. This was a comforting sound, consistent and rhythmic and it was my secret to keep in a family where secrets became abundant.
That day our regimented schedule took a vacation and we were gifted the entire beach to ourselves. My twin brother Edmund decided to catch tiny crabs and minnows with his goldfish net. My little brother Jon built sandcastles with a faded shovel and a rainbow of buckets that fit inside each other like Russian dolls. My mom, radiant in her blonde pixie hairstyle, her long legs and already tanned complexion from a summer of gardening, was stretched out on an old blanket as I watched her eyes dart from kid to kid making sure everyone was safe.
Back then, I was a self-described tom-boy, always in motion, fidgety, with an insatiable competitiveness that would soon fade once I entered the work force. But that day was different. I achieved an uncommon stillness as I studied my beachball rolling haphazardly in the tiny waves and eventually, in dawdling motion, go out to sea, heading toward the horizon, and perhaps more adventure, mocking the sun as the sky celebrated the end of another summer afternoon.
The sun, at once radiant and intimidating, gradually made its way around the last arc of the skyline. The colors were magnificent, becoming for me what all future sunsets would be compared to and the first time I witnessed a flash of green. This was beach time perfected, and a status many subsequent vacations would sadly never achieve.
Even now, when I see a dime store beachball in a window display or in a child’s hug, I immediately feel a sense of calm and think back to the simple, tranquil, glowing pleasure of that sunset with my family, when time was static for an afternoon.
What is your favorite vacation memory, please share in the comment section!