I found this post that I wrote more than a year ago before my father’s death. While it makes me sad, it also brings back sweet memories. I’ve posted it below.
When I was a child, my parents both had careers, but that wasn’t where they practiced their most refined and successful skills, at least not as far as my sister and I were concerned. With all due respect to their employers, they were most talented at creating incredible family memories.
Every summer we spent every Saturday at the beach. The ritual is still a vivid memory. There were rolled up rattan mats for my parents, a large old blanket for the kids and the mint green cooler that held our lunch and snacks. My sister and I had old, frayed towels to dry our bodies and sweep off sand from our chubby legs and arms.
Our destination was Newport Beach on the Balboa Bay side of the peninsula. We always parked on the same street, whose numbered name no one remembered. Instead, we knew it by the red stained cottage with the bright yellow-painted sun hanging near the front door.
As a tot, I just assumed we went there because it was my parents favorite beach. I never dawned on me that they chose the bay side because there were no waves, and therefore no need to worry about swift undertows, large crashing waves, or stinging jelly fish. Worrying about my sister and I not drowning seemed to be enough worry for their plate on those days.
Both my parents tanned easily; my sister and I were still strangers with the elusive suntan. We were always slathered with tan-don’t-burn-use-Coppertone, which was reapplied every few hours.
My sister and I were also plagued with that eternal problem for kids on every beach: getting sand in our bathing suit bottoms. There was also sand in our Coppertone, sand on our towels, sand on the blanket, and sometimes sand in our food. Little feet can’t seem to not kick or drag sand, whether it was on us or other people.
The calm waters were still scary for kids as young as young as we were. That was in the days before arm floaties and life jackets were readily available and considered the norm for youngsters on the beach. We were not, however, strangers to the always awkward bathing caps and cheap inflatable rings and rafts. There was a small swimming area roped off for kids, and for the most part, we were perfectly content to paddle and splash in this protected zone, under the mistaken belief that we would always be safe there.
As we grew older, my dad would help us venture out to deeper waters. When I say deeper, I’m talking about two feet rather than six inches of blue gold. Our goal was always to one day make to the floating diving deck anchored a few yards beyond the safe zone. My sister met the challenge, but not me. I would cling to my father’s strong shoulders knowing that I would always be safe with him.
After entertaining his daughters, my dad would attempt his most risky move: swimming across the bay to Balboa Island and back to the peninsula. The Balboa Bay is not a skinny channel. Even all those years ago there was constant traffic from sailboats, yachts, ferries, and other watercraft. I was terrified that he would get too tired to make it all the way across the bay, or that a passing ship rudder would turn him into fish food. Even my mom must have held her breath as we all scanned the bay, searching for dad’s bobbing head as his powerful arms cut through the water and his legs and feet kicked up and down, helping propel his body forward.
Yesterday I rubbed my father’s aching back and arms, sore from laying in mainly one position in his hospital bed for several weeks now. His arms are weak and doughy, with muscles that are relaxed and offer little strength. His hands shake as if he is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which, frankly, would feel like a party compared to this hideous cancer that has invaded his body.
His legs are no longer confident bearers of his weight. His right ankle still shows signs of swelling from a severe sprain he suffered nearly two months ago, and his right food splays outward in a vain attempt to steady himself when he walks. His calf muscles no longer work properly, and routinely cause his legs to buckle and his body to fall.
In my mind, my dad is still the man who took his family to the beach every weekend, cradled his children tenderly in the calm waters, and swam across the Balboa Bay.