We had to make the sandwiches, tuna fish on sliced sourdough. The canned tuna had to be mixed with the right ratio of mayonnaise, finely chopped red onion and dill pickle relish. Always dill relish, never sweet. My mom didn’t like sweet. I would have been fine with peanut butter and strawberry jelly on soft wheat bread, but the adults, my parents, liked tuna fish.
Once the sandwiches were loaded into our blue and white Coleman, the kind with the button on the side that, when pressed, would allow you to open the top like a convertible on a sunny day, we had to make sure we had the sunblock, the towels, our boogie boards and the chairs. I preferred to eat my lunch cross-legged on my towel, but my parents preferred the comfort of their folding chairs.
Even once we’d arrived, there was still so much to do. We had to pick our spot — close enough for my parents to watch us, and far enough to avoid the risk of our belongings being sucked out to sea by the rising tide. Then, we had to lay out the towels and find a tiny bit of shade for the Coleman, usually behind one of the beach chairs. After all that, came the inevitable ‘come here,’ as my mom squirted a mound of sunscreen into her palm and generously rubbed the thick white lotion onto my face, back and shoulders.
“That’s okay,” I yelled, in response to her telling me she hadn’t finished rubbing it in. I couldn’t wait another moment. I’d had the plastic leash of my neon-colored body board, a gift I’d gotten for Christmas, securely fastened to my wrist since before we had loaded the car.
“Don’t go out too far,” she’d holler.
But it was no use. I was in a trance. From the second the water, warmed by the summer sun and the warm water currents from Mexico, hit my toes, I was in heaven. My heaven. Nature’s playground.
The sips of salty water. The thrill of riding down the steep face of a cresting wave. Paddling out to where the bigger kids sat waiting to catch the ‘real’ waves and waving to my parents barely visible on the shore.
In January, I found myself standing on the shore of Playa Tupilapa in central Nicaragua.
Even though thousands of miles separated me from the beaches of my childhood, the warm water transported me right back to the days of tuna fish sandwiches and hours spent paddling and diving and waving to my parents on the distant shore.
I fastened the velcro leash to my wrist and started paddling. The water was warm and salty, like the water I remembered from childhood. I paddled toward the first set of rolling waves, looking for a place where I could sit and float. When I floated up and over the final wave of the set, I looked toward the shore, eager to wave to my parents as I had done more than 20 years before.
But they weren’t there. In fact, the beach was empty. It was just me, the ocean and my memories.
About the Author: Teryll Hopper, affectionately called La Gringa, is a writer, marketer and project manager. La Gringa studied Psychology at UC Santa Cruz. She’s an avid volunteer and nonprofit advocate. When La Gringa’s not managing projects in writing or design, she’s probably eating nachos, planning a trip to a foreign country, which she says, is her inspiration for creativity or running on some unpaved surface. That, or she might be at a thrift store scouring the racks for sweet vintage finds.
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