When I was a little child we had plastic sandals to wear at the beach. We needed them most on the days that the sand was so hot that the soles of your feet would be roasted if you tried to get from the grass to the sea, barefooted. I have vivid memories of the hot sand, those funny squelchy plastic sandals and time spent at the beach. What I don’t know is whether those memories were of something that happened often or if perhaps a few short heatwaves, like we had this week, created enough of that ‘good’ experience to make it seem like something that was common in my childhood. When you add in memories of sunburn, our pale skin roasted red, being anointed with calamine lotion before bed, of sandwiches literally gritty with sand which on a windy day stuck to the jam and banana filling, of the fizzy orange and baggy swimming togs, the summer memories definitely endure.
As we lived at the seaside, and my mum’s other 8 siblings lived in Belfast, our house, garden and beach, were a magnet for the city cousins. Together we idled away hours fishing with nets in rock pools, trying out swimming with flippers and goggles, burying one and other in the sand and playing ball when the tide went out and left rippled hard sand as a temporary pitch. Oh, happy days.
I do think that the childhood summers were similar, the memories from so long ago merge into one collective recall of genuinely happy times.
I wonder if the children of today will have a future memory of their connection to the church that will merge happy days into a single positive thought? The children who come for First Communions and special days enjoy their moment of magic in this most special place. Yet I fear that it is not enough, children need something more constant and stable, more engaging and concrete, something experienced with their parents, and families, something that really matters. In reality, we went to the beach every day, but we forget the details of what was routine and usual, and remember the hottest and most dramatic days. It’s so important to have both, the commitment to the ordinary and the joy of the exceptional.