I hate getting sand in my bathing suit. It just makes me itch and get all uncomfortable. And I swear everyone can tell, even though I try not to be too obvious and squirm.
We were at the beach club for the day -- Nana, Mama, Porter and me. Plus Pammy and a weird little friend of Porter’s named Shiner Paulsen. His real name was Robert, but ever since he got a terrible black eye when he made a scene tripping over his untied shoelace running to get to the ice cream truck back when he was in kindergarten, most everyone, including even his mama, has called him Shiner. I say most everyone because his teachers always insist on calling him Robert and since he’s not used to hearing that, he never answers in class when he’s addressed that way and ends up spending a lot of time in the principal’s office. It’s Shiner’s fault that I got sand in my bathing suit. He and Porter were playing keepaway with my brand new transistor radio and as I went to grab it from Porter, Shiner gave me a shove and I fell bottom first onto the ground. I could swear he tried to give me a feel “up there” when he pushed me but his hand missed and he ended up pushing my shoulder instead. Pammy said he had a really weird look on his face when he realized what he’d done -- like he’d gotten away with something. I don’t know how he could confuse my chest with my shoulder, since I’m not THAT flat chested. Stupid boys.
Once I got up and yelled at Porter and Shriner (who were halfway down the beach at that point), I tried to get as much sand off and out as possible, but didn’t have much luck. As it was almost lunch time, Pammy suggested we go up to the club, shower off and then get something to eat. We gathered up our towels and radio and books and put them in our cabana, then headed up to the main part of the club.
I’d been coming to the Sandy Palms Beach Club for as long as I could remember. Both my parents and grandparents were members and the Club (as we called it) was as much a part of my family as anything. Nana liked to tell the story of how she danced with Babe Ruth one night at a club party (he had two left feet and smelled of bourbon) and he made a pass at her. She said no, of course, but she always blushed a little when she would get to that part of the story. Mama and Daddy also ate dinner several times at the table next to Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Mama even put her lipstick on at the same time as Marilyn in the ladies room one evening. Mama said her skin was “flawless” and she was very nice and a little shy, and that Joe was so handsome. I loved hearing stories like this -- I thought it was cool when famous history and my family came together. I wrote a report for History this past year about when Papa came to a meeting at Sandy Palms to hear Calvin Coolidge speak -- it got an A. Mr. Daniels said it was very original. I liked being original.
We spend a lot of time at Sandy Palms, especially in the summer. Jack and his friends come here at night for parties and stuff. Jack likes to call the club Hairy Palms, because of a story going around about a guy named Kirby Lewis who got caught, as Jack likes to say, choking the chicken, in the corridor between the men’s and women’s locker rooms. Bitty Carmichael, the club president’s wife, was the one who found him -- she was coming in after her morning tennis match. Mama says she still hasn’t really recovered -- although she has always been a little nervous and uptight, so I don’t know how you could tell. Apparently Kirby, who was a lifeguard at the time, was on his break, which was coincidentally right after the girls’ swim team practice. That little incident earned him the nickname Wanker Lewis; Jack says he hasn’t gotten a date since it happened so it’s a good thing he’s well-trained in you-know-what. It makes Mama so mad when Jack says “Hairy Palms”, which is, of course, why he does it. Kirby’s younger brother Kris is in my grade -- I pretty much try to stay clear of him, just in case.
I have my own history with the Club -- I learned to swim in the club pool; learned to dance at cotillions in the ballroom; was taught out how to eat a meal with lots of silverware at your place setting; and got a little idea how to play bridge from watching Nana and Mama at their regular games. That’s what Mama was doing today -- playing bridge. She and her friends were up in the card room on the second floor at a table by the window. I could see her from our spot on the beach, dressed in a bright yellow dress, her jet black hair perfectly set, cards in her right hand and her cigarette in her left. The Upstairs Card Room was the smoking room and even though Mama grumbled a little about it in front of Daddy, she was glad to get the chance to smoke whenever she could -- and she always had an excuse for why her clothes smelled like smoke. I caught her eye as Pammy and I stepped onto the patio and headed for the outside shower to rinse our feet off. She mouthed a “where is your brother?” to me and cocked her head towards the beach. I rolled my eyes and pointed in the direction where I’d last seen Porter and his rotten buddy running off. She nodded, smiled and straightened her back, giving me a look. That was her little signal to me to stand up straight myself and hold my tummy in. I had put on my terry cloth coverup over my suit, so I didn’t think she could see my stomach -- but I straightened up anyway. We rinsed our feet off, took our flip-flops out of our beach totes, put them on and went into the pool area.
The smell of chlorine hit my nose as soon as we stepped onto the pool deck.
“Wow. That’s strong. Someone must have had a party in here last night.” I said to Pammy as we flipped and flopped along.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“Heck -- everybody knows that the maintenance staff puts extra chemicals in the water to kill any weird germs the day after a pool party. Even though you’re not supposed to drink in the pool, people do. They spill stuff. And they do lots of other things as well.” I grinned. I knew what was coming next. Pammy was so predictable.
“What do you mean ‘lots of other things’? Like what? What kinds of things could people.... oh. Ah. Ew, that’s just gross.” She made a face -- her usual “I’m disgusted” face.
I laughed, just as I stepped aside to avoid getting splashed by a group of beginner swimmers, hanging on the side of the pool, working on their kicking. Their instructor, Carl, was the same one who taught me to swim. In fact, I would bet that anyone who learned to swim at Sandy Palms learned from Carl. An older guy, his skin was tan and leathery from hours spent in the sun. He wore a floppy sailor’s hat -- the same one he’d had for years. It looked just like the hat Gilligan wore. When I was little, Jack told me that Carl really was Gilligan and I believed him. It wasn’t true, of course. Thank goodness I never said anything to Carl about being on a deserted island or on television. That would have been so embarrassing, even for a little kid like I was then. Jack was always telling me stories like that -- for the longest time, I thought that a witch lived in the towers on top of the country club near our house, thanks to a story he told me on our way to school one day. The club had really cool architecture -- Spanish, I think -- and the towers were the highlight, tall and pointy and mysterious. The thought of a witch living there scared me to death -- Jack described her just like Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty”, knowing full well that movie gave me nightmares. I couldn’t even look at the country club when we drove by without getting a little chill. Mama finally asked me one day what was wrong because she had noticed my strange behavior in the back seat of the car and I told her Jack’s story. She straightened both of us out -- me with the story and Jack for filling my head with such things. It took me a long time before I believed anything he told me like that was true.
We were almost to the outside door of the pool locker room when I heard the click-click-click of the mah jongg tiles coming from the poolside card room. It occurred to me that there certainly were a lot of rooms in this place -- and they always seemed to be filled with some activity or the other.
Nana and her mah jongg girls, as they liked to call themselves, were in the midst of a serious game by the sound of it. I paused a moment, debating on whether to say hello before we went and changed. Even though the sand inside my suit was really bothering me, I knew it was best if I said hello, since not doing so would not only be rude, but mentioned later. Over and over.
“Hi Nana. Mrs. Malone. Mrs. Canfield.” I stuck my head in the open door, smile on my face. There was another woman at the table who I didn’t know, else I would have said hello to her too. Must be polite, especially to one’s elders.
“Why Nixie Jean -- you’re back from the beach already?” Nana gestured to me to come over to her, bangle bracelets jingling in punctuation.
“Yes ma’am. I just got really sandy down there and we wanted to come and clean up before lunch.” I made my way to her seat and kissed her on the cheek. Pammy stood at the doorway, unsure of whether to come in or not.
“Hello Pamela. Nice to see you.” Nana smiled, always gracious.
“Hi Mrs. Porter.” Pammy flushed a little. She wasn’t always comfortable in these situations, even though she’d known my Nana most all of her life. And Nana was a little larger than life to begin with. A retired elementary school principal, she was what Daddy referred to as a “strong Southern woman.” With dyed red hair (we never did dare ask what her original hair color was -- only Nana and her hairdresser Donny knew for sure. And neither of them were talking.) and a love of bright colors, she sort of reminded me of Endora from Bewitched, without the mischief. But with the bright blue eyeshadow. I mentioned this to Pammy one day when we were floating around in our pool at home. She told me that I watched too much television, because all my comparisons involved TV characters. I promptly told her there was no such thing as too much TV.
“Are you girls going to eat lunch at the snack bar or in the dining room? The desserts in the dining room look especially good today.” Nana had a terrible sweet tooth that she was always happy to share.
“We thought we’d eat in the dining room. It’s more civilized in there.” I said. In the summer, the snack bar was full of kids like Porter and his friends and I wasn’t in the mood for their shenanigans at the moment. Especially that Shiner.
“Very good. Oh Nixie Jean, have you met Mrs. Barry? Sheila, this is my granddaughter Nixie Jean.” Nana nodded towards the mystery woman at the mah jongg table.
“Hello Mrs. Barry. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Sheila and her family are renting a house on our cove at the lake this summer. Her grandchildren are about your age.”
“Oh, that’ll be cool to have some new kids around this year.” I smiled politely. With my luck, they’d be all like Porter and drive me crazy. Thank goodness for Uncle Tommy being there.
The Card Room waitress walked in at that moment, carrying a tray of salads and one piece of key lime pie. I knew who that was for.
“We’ll be going now, Nana. We don’t want to interrupt your lunch.” I walked to the door where Pammy was still standing, trying not to look bored.
“That’s fine, Nixie Jean. Don’t forget about dinner at our house tomorrow night. Tommy called me this morning and said he would try to get in in time to sit down with us. So it will be a little celebration before we all head off for our summer activities -- your grandfather is going on a fishing trip to the Keys for two weeks. Did you know that?”
“Yes ma’am I did. Mama said something about that just this morning.” Nana took a long time to say goodbye. She was always remembering things she needed to tell you.
“We’ll see you later. Mrs. Barry, it was nice to meet you.” And with a smile and a wave, we were gone.