It’s the end of June. A time of year that triggers so many memories for so many of us. School winding down, squirming in our seats in a hot classroom, trying hard to pay attention, and not stare out of the window. Remember those days? End of year ceremonies, wearing our best dresses to closing assemblies, prize giving and getting, cringing as we listened to the school band or a young vocalist hit a few wrong notes. And then the final day, report cards, waving to classmates as the bus pulled away.
And then the torture was over. And summer had begun.
Well, most of the torture was over.
Except for one iconic activity that ushered in the season. The humiliating, exasperating, and often futile trip to town with my mum to buy a new bathing suit. I was always too tall, too skinny, too long in the legs and short in the body. And later around age 12 or 13 not developed enough to fill the top half… even a little. But I’d insist that I was too old to wear a child’s suit which would be like announcing to all the world, heaven forbid, that I was still as flat as a pancake. Sigh. And so we would stand in the dressing room, with Mum pulling at the front to see if she could make some sort of alteration to the built-in, padded bra. And me whining…”Mu-um!” And then she’d try to pin it and I’d still whine, “Mu-um… it’s too pointy.” Gad. What an ordeal. For both of us.
|At the camp, age three. Grand Lake, New Brunswick.
I’ve never been a beach sort of person. That’s me, in the shot above, in 1959, age three. We’re at my aunt and uncle’s camp at Grand Lake, in New Brunswick, where I grew up. My older sister is sitting beside me. She, at least, is in swimming attire. Me. I’m in overalls, socks, shoes, a coat, and a sun bonnet. That’s because I frequently had a cold and a sore throat as a small child, until I had my tonsils out. And I guess my mum was worried I’d … get a cold and a sore throat. According to my sister every time our family was close to being able to go somewhere, I’d get sick and we had to stay home. Maybe she exaggerated a bit… but my outfit here says maybe she was right.
|On the beach or the next best thing to being there, we thought.
A few years later, tonsils looked after, I didn’t get sick so often, and I did wear a bathing suit. But with my mum working full time by then, and raising four kids as a single parent, we didn’t get to the beach much. As you can see in the shot above at age seven or so, I was still too young and too much of a tomboy to care what my bathing suit looked like. And with the garden hose to fill this old washtub, and our trusty bucket, my friend Marie and I enjoyed pretending we were at the beach. Or enjoyed getting wet, at least.
I think I was around eleven when I began worrying that everyone else in the world (the world, mind you) was the epitome of Betty and Veronica in a swimsuit: curvaceous, chic, confident… well, everyone except moi. And if my grade eight class picture is anything to go by, I just needed to look around me to see that assumption was patently untrue. But it was all about perspective then, and of course being a teenager (or almost), I didn’t have any. Perspective, I mean. Or curves.. or confidence. Hence the dressing room scene with my mum, me, and a baggy-arsed bathing suit, with an unfilled top half. So to speak.
After a few years I didn’t struggle so much with my confidence. Teaching helped there. My students used to goggle when I told them that I was so shy in high school that I never spoke willingly in class, and a kid gasped one day saying, “What happened to you?” They couldn’t imagine me as that shy, self-conscious girl. Funny, eh?
|On the beach in Saint Augustine Florida, 1987
This is me above, on a trip to Florida with my husband in 1987. Still not entirely confident having my picture taken in my swimsuit. Clearly, I was feeling a little silly as I posed. Finally found a bathing suit that fit, without Mum having to make alterations, though.
My husband and I have been on lots of different beaches since then. From Florida, to Prince Edward Island, Algonquin Park, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. We both love the ocean. Especially me. But we’re neither of us beach people. Not exactly. At least not when it comes to lying on the beach. We’re either in the water, or on our bikes riding to or away from the beach, or in the canoe. And mostly I don’t worry about my bathing suit. You see it’s not the swimming or the beach I dread. More the shopping for the attire to get me there.
For quite a few years in my twenties and thirties I didn’t find bathing suit shopping quite as traumatic, as when I was a teenager. But now deep into my middle years, emphasis on the word ‘middle,’ I find I’ve come full circle. Or almost. I don’t lack for confidence, at least not in my normal day-to-day life. But…gad! There’s nothing like shopping for a bathing suit as a sixty year old to propel one back to one’s pre-teen angst.
As I said above, it’s not exactly the beach experience that I dread. Just the shopping itself. Shopping for a swimsuit has become all over again… a special kind of hell. An ordeal that I face all on my own now because I certainly cannot subject my 89 year old mum to anymore of my whining. She did her bit. Now it’s Hubby who hears the complaints. “How can one person be too skinny, and too fat all in the one day?” I asked last year when I came home from the mall empty handed.
Swim suit shopping is most definitely not for the faint of heart. But it is, it seems, one iconic activity that heralds the beginning of summer.
And this week, I’m girding my loins to begin the search once more.
Here we go again.