Little Kids Love Tide Pools

It’s coming up on summer again. It’ll be here before you know it. I’m going to start telling more stories from my newspaper column, Cup of Joe, that ran for ten years in the local newspaper here. Most of them are heartwarming like this one.

Eleven years ago, I wrote this column after a summer afternoon with my kids playing in a tide pool with our grandson. Did you ever play in tide pools as a kid? If not, you really missed something special. Many years ago, it seemed like they were everywhere along our beaches – long, narrow lakes of cool, clear seawater. When I was a kid like my grandkids now, I can remember playing in them for hours with my brother and other kids. Sometimes, the outgoing tide makes a current in them and you can lie on your back or a raft and float from one end to the other.

Some days, we barely ventured into the surf at all because we had so much fun entertaining ourselves in tide pools. All you needed was a friend a sibling or two, a sand bucket, plastic shovel and sieve, a little raft or inner tube to float on and you had all the fixings for an amusing day on the beach. Way back when but not so much these days, tide pools were a haven for all kinds of interesting sea life. Hermit crabs in colorful shells of all shapes and sizes patrolled the sandy bottoms like sentries. Every now and then, one of them would decide it liked its neighbor’s shell better than its own and it’d snatch the other one out of its shell and confiscate it, leaving its neighbor temporarily homeless. But not for too long because the evicted crab would soon decide a house swap with another neighbor was in order.

Sand dollars were more plentiful then, too. Sometimes you could just barely see their partially buried circular outline in the clear water. Other times, you had to inch along and feel for them with your fingers or toes. The greenish, prickly skin live ones were plentiful. A rare find was a big dead one, bleached bone-white by the sun and perfectly shaped with no dings or broken pieces missing. I remember finding one that was dang near as big as a tea saucer. I wish I still had it, although maybe it wouldn’t really seem that big now. If I had a real dollar for every sand dollar I scooped up as a kid between ages 6 and 11, I’d be a rich man today. Come to think about it, I guess I am rich because I have such a treasure trove of all these wonderful beach memories from childhood.

When we tired of playing in the tide pools, we walked along the shell line, scouring the beds of sea shells for interesting and unusual specimens. I haven’t seen olive shells in abundance like we used to find in ages. Where’d they go, I wonder? There are no shortage of the ubiquitous cockle shells, even now. I remember picking up some bigger than ash trays. Or maybe they just seemed that big to the eyes of an 8-year-old boy from South Georgia on vacation here. I’ve found a few huge ones here and there but nowhere near as many as I used to.

We came every summer and stayed a whole week. Back then, it seemed like a month. My family was poor and a week was all my dad could swing on his salary, and this in a day when weekly beach house rentals – Georgia folk called them cottages – could be had for as little as $25 to $30 a week. I recall daddy grousing when they went up to $30 to $40 a week. I fell in love with this beach before I was old enough for school. I met my first sweetheart here when I was, what, 14? Every summer, we kids made new friends among other kids from the beach not from our hometown and promised to be forever friends. Then we went home and began breathlessly counting down the long autumn, winter and spring months until our week on this once magical strand of beach rolled around again. Overdevelopment has left us only with memories of that magical place it used to be.

When I got out of boot camp in the summer of 1972, this was the first place I wanted to visit again. I needed to get some peace of mind and recharge my batteries before giving the US Navy the next four and a half years of my life. The beach went through a spell where weekly rentals were curtailed but that’s pretty much changed now. I’m glad. I wonder how many others are out there like me are here today as aging adults because our mamas and daddies and grandparents, aunts and uncles staked out a claim on the beach here for a week every summer? I’ll bet there are tons of us. And I’ll bet their memories are as delightful as mine.

When I was growing up, I always wanted to live here. It’s so close to Waycross, Georgia where I grew up that by the time we were in high school and had wheels, or friends who did, we used to come on weekends and holidays. Heck, I remember just up and skipping school to come down, knowing full well I’d answer for it when I got home. We started meeting local kids our age who lived here and envied them that they actually lived here.

I guess tide pools are as magical as they ever were. They seem to be making a comeback. Maybe it just takes the eyes of a child to see the magic. Standby for my blog next week about me teaching my adoring granddaughter about the secret language of sand dollars that not everyone can hear.