••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Travel Stories
Balloons at the Beach
Each summer, once my sisters and I were liberated from the months of school work, my dad would take down the cobweb covered beach chairs, haphazardly stacked in the garage, anticipating beach season.
We stuffed the car with boogie boards for me, six-foot-tall longboard surfboards for my two sisters, and rainbow-stripped, mesh fold-out chairs for my parents. We didn’t live far from the beach, only about fifteen minutes or so. But we would always spend the whole day there, vacationing in the sand and salty air for a day. Despite the shortness of our trips my mom was notorious for overpacking. It was nearly impossible for everyone to fit into my mom’s silver 2002 Suburban with all the beach toys and sand castle molds, and the cooler full of goodies, and the plethora of fold-up beach chairs, and the two six-foot tall surfboards. Being the youngest I was always designated to the back, trapped by our beach supplies. As if we didn’t have enough already packed into the car, we would always stop by Piggly Wiggly, a now out-of-business grocery store in the south, and stock up on enough food to last a whole weekend. My mom would buy a whole buffet of southern staples: fried chicken, potato wedges, mac and cheese, watermelon, sweet tea, and those weird popsicles that come in the plastic sleeves.
While my family wandered around the store, grabbing the necessities, I would stand by the flower section, marveling up at the balloons which pushed up against the net that held them in place. Why would I need a balloon for a beach trip? Well, I’ve needed glasses since I was in the third grade, which we discovered when I would get out of my seat in class and sit on the ground right in front of the chalkboard to take notes. Without my glasses, the beach was a blur. It was impossible to locate my family in the sea of tanning tourists and flocks of families. So, with each beach trip, I selected my balloon; bright pink, red, yellow…colorful confetti and big white “Happy Birthday” lettering…big headed Minnie mouse or SpongeBob with his thin, deflated legs. Once at the beach, we would tie my big, bright, obnoxious balloon to our beach chair: a buoy leading me back to my family.
Returning to the car, gripping my balloon, we would all cram ourselves back in, the beach now only five minutes away. We drove with our windows down, the salty, marshy air filling the car. Once at the beach we had to unload everything, an unsurmountable task all on its own. As a ten-year-old with sisters who were nearly in their twenties, I always felt a need to prove myself among the adults. I would burden my arms with two chairs, a beach towel or two, a cheesy tote bag that said something along the lines of “Life’s a Beach”, and haul my load across the street, down the walkway onto blistering sand. Inevitably, I would need to stop, put everything down to catch my breath before continuing my trek. My dad would walk with me, lightening my heavy load as we went.
Once at the beach, my sisters would run off to “catch some waves” together, and my parents would deposit themselves on the beach chairs to tan. I would be left alone. I hated not being included in what the adults were doing. By myself, I would go out into the waves, blindly swimming without my glasses. I would spend hours out there, hands pruney, mouth dry from the salt, eyes stinging. Eventually, arms sore, I would grow tired of the water. Back on the shore, pushed far down by the current, I would scan the beach for that bright red “Happy Birthday” balloon that my dad and I had picked out, mom protesting that it wasn’t even anyone’s birthday.
I toed the line between sand and salt, glimpsing out over the waves as I went, thinking about my sisters who were likely still out there surfing. I’ve never told my sisters this: I thought the ocean ended in a waterfall. It was the only way I could interpret the horizon where the water cuts off, that line where water meets sky seemed reachable for my sisters who were so much older. My ten-year-old brain feared that my sisters in their overly ambitious teenage desire to show off, would venture too close to the waterfall. I imagined them, looking out into oblivion. What would happen if they fell over? I never had an answer to that question, never let myself think that far.
I always returned to the family home base of towels and beach chairs and balloons, my sisters forever among the waves. Starved from the hours spent struggling in the ocean, I would devour the Piggly Wiggly goodies. I can still recall the time spent occupying myself with building sand castles or running back out into the waves, waiting for my sisters. Eventually bored by my own antics, I would return, scanning the horizon as I ate my blue raspberry Fun Pop, wondering if our balloon was high enough for them to see.
© Sammy Jones March 14th 2019
email: joness5 at g.cofc.edu
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