People & Places: A Day at the Beach

“Are we there yet?” asks Narek plaintively from the last row of the minivan that is ensnared in traffic on its way to the beach.

“Not yet,” replies his mother, Azniv.

“How much longer?”

“Soon.” The vague response doesn’t satisfy his impatience.

“Can we go back home?” he asks.

“We’re almost there, dghas (my son),” his mother says trying to appease him and continues her twenty mile an hour crawl through traffic but Narek, still unhappy, slouches in his seat with a pout.

Who could blame him? The drive, now almost an hour long, seems like an infinite amount of time for his six year old mind. In fact, before the advent of automobiles and freeways, Angelino’s spent two days on the road with their wagons to reach the California coastline from their homes in the city which consisted of places like Pasadena and Bunker Hill in downtown.

“He has too much energy,” says Azniv with a look that implied that this quality of her son’s was too much for her to manage sometimes.

Narek is the youngest of Azniv’s children. Her daughter Adrineh, now fourteen, is statuesque and could easily pass for a young woman of twenty. Maria, ten years old, while born with a handicap that caused her to be developmentally challenged, is charming and bright. Azniv turns on the radio and Greek music from her favorite CD pours out of the speakers.

“Maria likes to sing along,” she says. “She knows the words to all the songs.” Sure enough, Maria’s tiny melodious voice begins to underscore the one emanating from the CD.

The minivan continues to crawl through the traffic as Azniv tries to distract her son by giving him the task of looking for the first sign of the ocean. He soon tires of this too but the exit is near and, as Azniv announces their imminent arrival, it gives him hope.

Finally the car is parked and Maria opens the door for all three children to pile out. Narek is bouncing with energy but is commanded to stay put as Azniv and Adrineh unload the beach bags. “Is the sand hot?” he asks as he steps on to it with his Spider Man flip flops. He slips them off and places his foot on the sand tentatively. Satisfied that he won’t burn the bottom of his feet, he proceeds barefoot to the oceans edge ahead of everyone else. Once again Azniv calls to him to wait while they’ve set up camp. First the umbrella, then the chairs and finally the towels are laid out but now he must endure the task of being slathered with sunblock. More than the dangers of the hot sun, Azniv is concerned about Narek’s right arm. He recently broke it while jumping off a swing and is now wearing a cast from his fingertips to the area just above his elbow.

“Don’t go in the water past your knees,” instructs Azniv as she slips a plastic bag over the cast and ties the ends. All possible precautions in place, Narek bounds off towards the surf ready to tackle the waves. He is followed closely by Adrineh while Maria is happy to stand by the edge and let the water wash over her feet.

He tempts the waves and chases them as they come towards him and dissipate at his feet. Each time he goes a few inches further into the water. Suddenly, a larger then normal wave catches him throws him to the ground submerging his covered arm in water.

“Dghas, you can’t get your arm wet,” his mother admonishes him sternly while removing the wet plastic bag. But Narek’s eyes are riveted on the coastline and as soon as Azniv is done tying the ends of a new bag he is off and running, his recent submersion in the salt water fueling his resolve.

“He has no fear,” Azniv says.

“Is that all you’ve got?” he yells at the ocean while shaking his left fist at the waves, challenging them to dare to give him more of the same, like Don Quixote battling the windmills. He holds his broken arm high in the air in an attempt to keep it safely out of the way. His tense, tiny body against the backdrop of the vast body of water looks like it may just be able to overpower its adversary.

While her brother rails and her sister safely wades, Adrineh conquers her fear of the unknown and gives in to her desire to enter the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean, all the while screaming and squealing. Mainly she is afraid of what she can’t see and imagines the presence of fantastic undersea creatures and shark attacks. The only things she encounters are pebbles and floating seaweed.

Eventually, all three siblings wander along the sand in search of smooth rocks and bits of seashell.

“Look Mom,” Adrineh rushes over with delight to show her mother a tiny and perfectly round sand dollar with its distinctive shadow of a star. Although she looks older that her years, Adrineh’s guileless joy is a clear giveaway of her true age.

“Put this in the bucket,” instructs Narek and hands over some rocks then quickly rushes back for more.

“They are cooped up so much that this is a great escape for them,” she says with a shake of her head as she keeps a protective eye on her children. “We’ve only been here for two years and this is their first real outing to the beach.” Originally from the island of Cyprus, excursions to the beach are an integral part of Azniv’s childhood memories. But most of her married life was spent in landlocked Armenian where her husband attended the university and became a prominent doctor. After ten years, the family moved to the United States to provide a better future for the three children. Since their arrival, the couple’s main concern has been to acclimate to a new culture and way of life. “We have no family here,” says Azniv, “we’re completely on our own and it hasn’t been easy.”

Soon it’s time to go home and once again the minivan becomes ensnared in traffic. Narek keeps a protective eye on his cache of rocks, Adrineh furiously responds to text messages she has ignored for a delightful few hours and Maria begins to sing along to the music on the radio while Azniv blissfully listens to the chatter of her children.

Then suddenly there is silence in the car. Narek is fast asleep on the back seat, a day at the beach finally tamed his overflowing energy.

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