Another time at Cooper’s, when I was married with young twin sons, I ran into the waves for a swim. Relishing the momentary solitude in the cool buoyant water, I swam past the break and tread water as I gently bobbed over the rolling surf. When I began to feel tired, I let the waves begin to carry me back into shore, the way I had learned to do as a child. Looking in towards the beach, I saw my dad and my husband watching me intently while darting back and forth on edge of the shoreline like sandpipers. I hadn’t noticed until then that the strong undertow had shot me well down the beach past the lifeguard stands. As I neared the break, a blonde, tanned teenager approached me, extended his hand and asked me if he could help me. I accepted his outstretched hand and took one swimming step beneath the water onto the ledge of soft sand that appeared under my feet. When I emerged from the ocean I looked back at the too young, too handsome man who had swam out to me and realized with some embarrassment that he was a lifeguard. I hadn’t felt in trouble at all. I had assumed I’d end up a little further down the beach and had trusted the current would carry me. Still, I felt grateful to know he had been watching. And again, on my father’s face, I recognized the same look of concerned relief as the other times when I had emerged from the water, unscathed.
A couple of weeks after my dad’s bout of heat stroke, I took my nine-year old sons to Cooper’s with my dad and my mom. It was a picture perfect June day. Since the season hadn’t officially started, there were no lifeguards on duty and parking was free. The sea was calm. In spite of these delights, my dad was irritable when we got there, and reprimanded me for opening a ketchup packet for one of my sons at the snack bar. “I can assure you if he get a quarter into that toy vending machine, he can open a ketchup packet for himself,” he grumbled. Later, he snuck quietly to the water’s edge and went for a swim. After that, his mood brightened, and I finally suspected the source of his initial crankiness. He’d been afraid my mother, still reeling form the heat stroke incident, wouldn’t let him swim without the lifeguards. And I must admit that while I watched him standing at the seashore, at his favorite place in the world, a place where he had introduced his daughters to the joys of the ocean and protected them from its peril, it surprised me that he looked kind of, well, old. His silvery hair had turned whiter and his strong shoulders appeared rounded. And for a moment, perhaps my father and I shared the same uncomfortable thought, as I wondered which one of us was actually the lifeguard now.
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