My childhood days at the beach used to be simple affairs. As fast as my flip-flops would allow, I'd run ahead of my parents to a small patch of sand overlooking the Great Sacandaga Lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains. My mom's warning, not to go in until she got there, rarely kept me from splashing in knee-deep water, struggling to grasp a minnow.
Potato chips, M&Ms, frozen sodas, and a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich just for me filled a small cooler. My shy little brother, Ambi (so nicknamed when he was too young to protest), and I spent most of these summer days wrestling in black inner tubes, an on-the-water version of "king of the mountain."
My stunningly assertive and assertively stunning older sister, Lara - single-mindedly sunning herself on the float - flashed us occasional looks that promised pain for any would-be splasher. The fact that a cheap bottle of "Sun-In" had produced awkward orange highlights in her light-brown hair did not help her mood.
The best part of our Sacandaga afternoons were the attempts Ambi and I made to run off a short dock, dive over the water, and catch a Frisbee thrown from the beach. Usually, these bids left us with a string of failures, lots of lake water up our noses - and grins from ear to ear. There was something so satisfying about stretching over the water to grab a spinning plastic disk. The rare catch made for excited dinnertime talk and instant nostalgia - the kind of nostalgia I yearned for at a recent family outing to the New Jersey shore.
Arms laden with chairs, towels, and a cooler the size of an igloo, we set up camp. Though not unhappy to be ensconced in the spoils of consumerism, I did feel the innocence of my Norman Rockwell past slipping away. The blue-collar foods of my youth had been replaced with bourgeois fare: Ginseng and honey-laced iced tea, farm-fresh veggies, and organic hummus.
Lara evidently had eschewed this oh-so-public beach in favor of a more private condo in the Hamptons. My parents laid out highbrow books, while my brother, now a big-shot model in New York, toted his boogie board to catch the famous Manasquan Beach surf. The Frisbee lay abandoned under a crumpled towel.
But appearances, it turned out, were misleading. My attitude, not my family, was what needed restoring. My sister, I soon learned, had really wanted to join us. My parents ignored their books and watched their kids play. And my brother quickly tired of the surf scene and joined me for some Frisbee. We bounded across the sand, eager to feel the wind and the energy of expending energy.
Without even a warm-up, the tradition born at Sacandaga emerged as a look of tacit understanding on Ambi's face. I released the disk, fast, smooth, 15 meters out across the water. It hung tantalizingly close, but the roaring sea held him back, and a last-minute dive yielded only a fistful of seawater. It was a great day at the beach.
Oh, and my mom had brought a special snack: a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich, just for me.