Both my Dad and I were hit with the smell of salt water the moment we opened the car doors. For us, it was special and a thousand memories flooded our minds. For my two sons, Andy and Joey, it was a first-time experience. Yes, they have been to the beach before. But this is the first time that they will remember it. We were down in Galveston for the day and we took the boys to walk around on the beach. The smell of the air, the seagulls flying about, even the smell of suntan lotion fired up our memories of vacations and day trip pasts. And now I was sharing them with Andy and Joey.
We told Andy he could walk in the water, but no higher than his shins or knees. Yeah, right! In the first five minutes he was soaked and upset that he didn’t have his bathing suit. Not sure what we were thinking, but I let him play in the water nonetheless.
Dad just wanted to walk along the beach and so we sat there while he took a stroll.
My father was born and raised in Galveston back in the 1930s and 1940s. His father, William James Newton Hammons, had come from west Texas where he was born in Callahan County back on November 4, 1902. His mother was a Missouri girl, born in 1898 in Sedalia, Mo., and her family made it to Texas as fast as they could, arriving in Galveston around 1908 or 1910. Apparently Clara Helen Varnon was absolutely gorgeous and a fine catch. She was also known for pushing social boundaries. According to legend, she was the first woman in Galveston to get a driver’s license and the first woman in Galveston to buy a car. At that time, it was scandalous. But she had a job and wanted a car and didn’t let anything get in her way of obtaining one.
My grandfather was a bit of a charmer and it is reported even went on a date with Mary Martin, the famous actress. He didn’t make any impression on her because she ended up marrying some guy named Hagman. You know the offspring of that union, Larry Hagman, their son, from Dallas fame. My Pops did however secure the affections of my grandmother. Since she was living in Galveston, that is when Pops moved there as well, and he became a real estate broker. He was part of the deal that sold the house known as the Bishop’s Palace, or Gresham’s Castle, to the Roman Catholic Church. The story goes that the Catholic Church wanted him and his fellow brokers just to give it to them, but they were not in a position to be that charitable.
There we were kicking about Galveston for the day. Dad took us to the Moody Gardens to explore the rain forest exhibit, then down to the beach just to walk around. He said east Galveston beach is one of the few places he can take off his shoes and walk barefoot. Now I know where I get my propensity to wear shoes all the time from. There are very few places I feel comfortable taking my shoes off and going barefoot. And yes, Galveston beach is one of them. The sand is extremely soft.
Dad grew up coming to this beach as a child. He told us that when he was extremely sick and covered with boils from some unknown malady, his father took him down to the beach to immerse him in the cold waters. It seems odd to us, but Dad recovered from whatever ailment it was. I’m not suggesting we all do this with our sick children, but it worked for Dad.
One of my favorite memories of east beach eating lunch there. We would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with Lay’s potato chips and Oreo cookies for dessert. What made it so special was the Texas sun would warm up the Oreo cookies for us while we were playing in the water, which made them extremely good to eat. It’s very similar to sun-warmed plain M&M’s. Just the right temperature for softening up the chocolate in the middle. Try it some time.
One of my worst memories was the time I met some guy my age and we decided to go up and down the beach popping all the Portuguese Man-O-Wars with handfuls of sands. Why, I will never know. But it was something boys do that makes no sense. My desire to do so quickly ended when my companion in this endeavor popped one, sending all the nice acids from the explosion all over my body. That ruined my day.
After spending an hour there, we decided to head up the boulevard to get something to eat and Landry’s. Given that Andy was soaking wet, we also decided to stop and Academy and buy him some dry clothes. We didn’t want to go all the way back to the hotel before we ate. Andy loved the new pants and shirt we bought him.
Of the Photos: top is Dad with his shoes off, Andy getting ready to get soaked, and Joey at my side. Below, me on one of our trips to the beach back in the late 1960s.