Give me a deck of cards and no sand

My dad hated the beach. At least, that is how I remember it.

We only went a couple of times during my childhood, and I cannot recall a single instance of my father actually ever being in the ocean playfully batting at the waves, sitting on the beach under a big, colorful umbrella reading a trashy novel, or gathering shells in a plastic bucket early in the morning amid the joggers and older couples walking their dogs. He was much happier staying in the hotel near the air conditioner, watching the race on television or playing a game of gin with anybody he could coax away from beach frolicking for a stolen moment or two.

At night, we would go out and eat seafood, and he did enjoy that part of it. Maybe, somewhere later on, there would be a game of putt putt under the bright lights, by far my favorite part of any beach trip until I discovered the sundry delights of Calabash shrimp. For some inexplicable reason, there is just something about hitting a red golf ball into a clown’s mouth or around a giant plastic dinosaur that pleases me down to the core.

In three years, we have already established a family tradition of going to the beach. In fact, we always go to the same beach, Sunset Beach, and we have grown to know and love the place well enough to have established certain traditions within our tradition — a couple of trips to the Seafood Hut, several trips to the Calabash Creamery, one day-trip into Myrtle Beach to stroll around the Boardwalk and see whatever there is to see at the IMAX theater, getting some Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the ride back and wolfing down a couple of hot glazed on the way. These are things we look forward to and relish every year, simple as they are.

However, there are times at the beach when I must confess that I feel certain genetic imperatives, the old pull of the blood if you will. In other words, I wasn’t born to love the beach. Except for hot baths in the winter and the occasional jacuzzi, I do not really like being in the water all that much. I am not much of a swimmer. Extremely hot weather makes me uncomfortable and grouchy. I despise getting into a hot car on a hot day, dealing with the scorching vinyl seats, the suffocating lack of breathable air inside until the air conditioner kicks in at last and eases the sense that you and your loved ones are just a bunch of giant chicken nuggets getting cooked in a microwave oven shaped like a minivan.

But the thing I hate worst of all is the “pre-beach preparation ritual” that we go through each morning before heading out for a day on the beach. My wife, who loves the beach more than any human being you can possibly name - more than Jimmy Buffet, more than Pamela Anderson, more than the Beach Boys - nevertheless has certain concerns about the beach that border on the phobic. For example, she is convinced that sharks lurk in the ocean beyond where the water comes up past your knees, ready to strike the moment the first wave comes into contact with the fabric of your bathing suit.

She is also convinced that any hint of a tan - even the very slightest, almost impossible to detect coloration of one’s skin - is to be prevented at all cost, which involves not just copious amounts of maximum strength sunscreen but an enormous volume, bottle after bottle, a vat of it, giant handfuls smeared over every centimeter of our bodies. No crook, no cranny, no crevice of flesh must be left exposed. This, of course, must be done inside before we leave for the beach, meaning that we all have to stand in line like soldiers at attention as she ministers to us. The kids and I hate this, even though we realize that it is necessary because, 1) we don’t want skin cancer and 2) mom will have a full blown anxiety attack if someone comes home later on with bright pink earlobes or a sunburned this-little-piggy-had-roast-beef toe. Even that much would be intolerable, so we get the full treatment, at least two coats, as if she were painting the deck. Needless to say, this takes awhile, and with the air conditioner blasting out frozen air, it is a cold and greasy process that the kids and I really loathe. Trust me, there is no small amount of groaning and complaining as we get slathered up.

Also, when you are covered in sunscreen, it is as if you’ve become a huge fly-strip. Everything that comes near you sticks to you. When you combine this with putting back on your cold, sand-crusted, still wet from the day before bathing suit, I understand better than I ever thought I would why my dad brought a pack of cards to the beach. I’m a 6’4” fly-strip. No, I am a giant piece of slimy bacon about to sizzle all day on a sandy griddle. All I can think, as she touches up my nostrils and eyelids, is how eagerly I look forward to that day when the kids will be old enough to grasp the unbridled joy of hitting a red golf ball into a clown’s mouth.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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