Dear Charlie and Jack,

Part I

YOUR BEACH

This morning, the first morning of our five day vacation in Davenport, we got to check out the beach.    After a leisurely breakfast, we stuffed one backpack with snacks, towels, toys, and sunscreen.  We crossed the highway, maneuvered down a small wall of rocks, hopped over some train tracks, and hiked down the grassy trail.  We reached the beach by 11:00.

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 I spread our beach towel next to a wall of rocks and Jack immediately started to pull things out of the bag. He then proceeded to dig sand and bury the things he had just unpacked.  I smiled when I noticed that he and I were dressed similarly in our long sleeved hooded shirts, pants, and flip flops.  Both our faces were white with sunscreen.

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A hundred feet or so away, Charlie trudged after your Papa who was picking up bottles, cans, plastic bags, and other trash left behind by beach-goers.  “Papa, why do we have to do this?  It’s taking so long!”  I heard Charlie whine.  After several minutes of cleaning up, they finally got to taking out their various toys.   The wind was blowing hard, however, and eventually, they abandoned the idea of setting up the tee ball.  They walked around, instead, and found a nearby creek.  Charlie braved the cold water and waded in to look for trout swimming their way back to the ocean.  Finding none, he moved on to building and smashing down sand castles.  Like Jack and me, your papa was dressed in his long sleeved shirt, pants, wide brim hat, and sunglasses.  Charlie, in his swim shirt and trunks, was the only one who looked like he was at the beach.

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The scene around us looked perfect.  Crashing waves formed stretches of white foam, stark against the intense blue sky.  The din of the crashing waves and the whipping of the wind, overwhelming at first, provided a soothing symphony.  To the left of the ocean, a big rock loomed, a landing spot for many gulls.  A shiny head of maybe a seal bobbed along with the waves.  There were bundles of sea weed drying on the sand, each bundle feasted upon by thousands of small sea flies of some sort.  Farther up, where the waves receded, exposed tide pools teemed with small crabs and other kinds of small sea creature crawlers.  No one else was around except for one other man in his shorts throwing a ball for his very hairy dog to fetch.  The dog barked, his tail wagged, his whole body jiggled as he ran for the ball.  “Look at the dog’s tail, that means he’s happy and he has no intention of biting you,” Mike said when he sensed my anxiety.  Ok, I replied, carrying Jack as far away from the dog as possible.  There were only six of us, including the dog, in the entire beach.  There was no reason to cram in one area.

At 12:30, my stomach started to rumble.  The walnut bread and the honey mustard chips were no longer satisfying.  Jack had already eaten a fistful of sand, maybe more.  I felt his cheeks- they were cold just like mine.  Charlie joined us to get a drink of water.  He shivered and hopped around.  I decided it was time to head out.  We packed up, hiked up the trail, hopped over the train tracks, scrambled over the wall of rocks, crossed the highway, and crashed in front of the TV once we got to the cottage.  It was 1:00 and that was the end of our first day at the beach.

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As far as adventures go, this morning’s was pretty uneventful.  Still, I write you about in in this letter because if we, as a family, continue to live here in Northern California, this is the kind of beach you boys will be experiencing during your beach vacations.   This is the beach of your early childhood.  I want to make sure you have something to remember it by in case we (or you) later on decide to move somewhere else where the beach is not the way as I have just described.

 Part II

MY BEACH

When I was a child, until when I was 16 and had to move to America, my whole family would periodically go on special trips to the coastal city of Cagayan De Oro which was about an hour’s bus ride away from us.  Those trips were special because they were the only times we got to travel that far away from home to do something that was otherwise impossible to do amidst the mountains where we lived:  go to the beach.

We would usually arrive at my aunt’s house on a Friday night.  The following morning, the adults would spend the morning making and gathering food:  chicken adobo, fried fish, grilled squid, fried shrimp, inun-onan (fish boiled primarily in vinegar and garlic), kinilaw (kind of like ceviche), humba  (pork with soy sauce and salted black beans), ginamos (brined fish), mangga, santol, saging, lots and lots of rice…  Around noon, somebody would take the motorela (a motorcycle decked with seats for passengers) to the bus depot and hire a jeep that would take all of us to the beach with our pots, pans, bags and baskets of food.  The ride would take about an hour.  Inside the packed jeep, everyone, from babies to grandparents, would be jibbering and jabbering at the same time.  Even the loud rush of the wind entering through the wide open side window of the jeep could not tame the excited chatter.

 At the beach, we would rent a hut with a thatched roof and no walls.  We would then have lunch while shooing away the flies circling around the food and some stray dogs looking for scrap.  Little girls or boys would stop by to try to sell food like boiled peanuts or rice wrapped in banana leaves.  After eating, most of us, kids and adults alike, would “swim”.   This simply meant jumping up and down in waist high water, daring the gentle waves to knock us down, squealing when our faces got splashed.  The girls’ and the women’s skirts would bloom around the waist.  Sometimes we would rent salvavidas, the rubber interior of tires, and on them we floated without fear wherever the waves took us.  Often, the kids would be let loose by their parents and usually would go their separate paths to gather starfish and shells.  We would be gone for hours and no one would come looking for us.  The starfish were easy to find.  They were usually stranded on the sand when the water receded.  Even when they were unexposed and underwater, their scratchy arms and legs were easy to feel with the feet.  We would collect many of them to bring home with us.  Inevitably, we would forget them in plastic bags where they would rot.

Almost always, the older women- mamas, titas and manangs– would leave the water earlier than the kids or the men would.  When the women walked back to the hut, they would hunch and cover their breasts which could be seen through their wet shirts.  The rest of the men and the kids didn’t share the same concern- some of the kids walked around naked while the men never seemed to notice or care that their short pants were almost halfway down their buttocks.

If not looking for shells and sea stars, most of us kids would frolic in the water for hours, not caring about pruned skins or sunburn or red scratchy eyes or salty snot pouring down our noses.  Soon, the sky would turn gray as dusk settled in.  The stars would come out, faint at first, brighter as the night sky deepened.  Gas lamps would flicker, casting strange shadows.  The wind would pick up, just a bit, just enough to sway the coconut leaves.  The swish of the coconut leaves would be the perfect steady backdrop for all else that brimmed with life:    the lapping waves, the barking of some errant dogs fighting over a bone, the droning of the mosquitoes, the high pitched squealing of a few rambunctious kids, the raucous laughter from a group of college boys and girls drunk on coconut toddy, the sad strains of a love song being plucked on a guitar, the soft snoring of sun drenched babies.

And then it would be time to go, the jeep would arrive and we once again would pack up everything.  Sandy and wet, we would cram in the jeep.  Exhausted, the kids would fall asleep right away, no longer aware of either the wind whipping their hair as the jeep flew down the highway or of the cloying city night heat as the jeep wound its way through potholed alleys on its way to my aunt’s house.

As far as adventures went, my days at the beach were uneventful.  Nothing monumental ever happened.  Still, I include these memories in this letter because these are my most precious memories of my beach.  I know that the beach of my childhood, as I knew it, no longer exists today but here in this letter it does and I would like to pass it on to you.

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