Saturday, March 21, 2009


The easily accessible beaches were Pismo, Avila, Morro Bay, and Oceano.  I don't have childhood photos of any of them, but I do have a snapshot of my parents, when engaged to be married, at Morro Rock, geologically the last in a chain of peaks of which the highest is Bishop's Peak.  My mother is wearing beach pajamas, and they are holding, coyly, in front of them a question-mark shaped piece of kelp that they had found.  I remember (so clearly that if I could digitize my mental image of it, it would be perfect) the photo my grandfather took of me, age 4,  wearing a brown pullover (Oceano is often cold) over beach pajamas at first extra large and hitched up at the shoulders; I got them for my first birthday (see above).  Their background color was again apple green.  It hung, framed, over the radio-phonograph at the end of the dining room at 684, by the swinging door to the kitchen.   A young painting student named Phyllis, whose last name I forget, got color notes from the grandparents and copied it as an oil painting (not unskillful, actually).  I no longer have access to either, if they exist.  I do remember posing on the Oceano dunes, though.  I remember the difficulty of climbing up the pure sand, but little else of visits there.  The water is colder, and, if one were old enough to go in further, the undertow is strong.
On the other hand, though I have no photo, I remember the blue and white swimsuit, the white top like a sleeveless undershirt, the blue bottom like shorts.  It was for a child about three years old, and my siblings wore it after me.  No child went naked, and no girl child, no matter how young, went topless.  I remember walking into the surf at (probably) Avila and looking around in the water and my grandmother coming in after me, I had no idea why she came in, shoes and stockings and all.  But they made a great fuss, and I did understand that, no words needed.  I remember a stand where we bought cotton candy, but I don't remember which beach.  I have pictures of a big, long pier, which I think is Pismo rather than Morro Bay.  I remember picking up sand dollars.  I do remember wading on many occasions and playing in the wet sand as the tide went in and out.  None of us thought of swimming.  I'm not sure any of us knew how.  The Pacific is not, in any case, a good place to learn.  The breakers can be large, and the tide is strong and, unless perhaps at Pismo, I don't remember seeing any lifeguards.  But wading in the salt water, not deeper than one's waist, and having the sensation as of the sand moving underfoot as one wave after another comes in or out, is lovely when one is little.
In Google maps, the Oceano dunes seen from space are gleaming white and extensive, and I hope they are as Protected as they are designated as being, since the famous photographs by Edward Weston (and Ansel Adams followed him there), which I came to know much later, do them no more than justice.
Yesterday I wondered why my recollections of the beaches, though vivid as memories of sensation, are all jumbled.  I think it is because I was always taken there, never until 1990 going there myself.  The dark sand of Avila and the white of Oceano stand out at such.  But we got into my grandfather's car and set out, the adults sometimes discussing which to go to as we left town, and, when the color of light changed and the smell of the ocean came to us, I knew that we were nearly there.  It is like the NY Subway, the London Underground, the Paris or other Metro: you get into train, or automobile, at one end and out into another reality at the other.