By Ralph Hood
There was a wonderful movie entitled On the Beach. This is not that story—I just borrowed the title.
I was on the first team of beach lifeguards hired for Jekyll Island, Georgia.
The ride to Jekyll was usually the most exciting part of the day. The state sent a pickup truck to get us. The causeway was a roller coaster of dips and waves, and we urged the driver—who was not that much older than we—to ever-greater speeds as we rattled around in back. The truck had a big slab of concrete in the back, to help provide traction in sand, and I hung tightly to the handles on that slab. It sat right next to the open tailgate, but I was convinced it was too heavy to bounce out. Later, in flight training, I learned that heavy things bounce at least as well as light things. I lie awake at night to this day imagining that slab—with me clutching tightly on top—sliding down the causeway at 90 miles per hour.
Practical jokes abounded on the beach. We once sent Suellen Wheless—or was it Tootsie Hickox?—from one end of the beach to the other—which was about a two mile walk roundtrip—hunting for the non-existent “wave gauge” so we could measure the waves for the “Hurricane Bureau” in Atlanta.
Tourists were fair game. A woman approached lifeguard Raymond West one day with several small crabs in a cardboard box. She wanted to set them free so they could live happily ever after. Raymond carefully examined the crabs and opined to the lady that those were some mighty nice crabs. He then pointed her to a particular part of the water, telling her that, “Most people turn them loose right there, and they seem to like that spot.” He then directed her step by step to the perfect spot. She dumped the crabs in, and then Raymond hollered, “Now run!” The lady floundered out of the water in a dead panic, and Raymond solemnly announced, “Good job.”
Tourists became highly upset when stung by jellyfish. As all Jekyll Island folk know, a jellyfish sting hurts like fury for 20 minutes or so, then pretty much goes away. We never could convince tourists of that, so we kept a bottle of “Lifeguard Jellyfish Remedy.” When a little old lady came up frantically reporting that she had been “bitten” by a “Portuguese Man O’ War,” we jumped up as if the situation were indeed dire, and instructed her to quickly apply the Lifeguard Jellyfish Remedy. That being done, we told her it would stop the pain in only 20 minutes. She was amazed when it did exactly that. What was in our famous remedy? Oh, whatever we had around—ketchup, mostly, with a little Coca-Cola for color, and maybe a dab of mayonnaise for thickening. It didn’t really matter; it always worked in about 20 minutes.
We also told a few people about the 80-year-old millionaire who—we said— swam from the tip end of Jekyll every Saturday morning at dawn. The story was he arrived in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce limousine with a canoe on top. The chauffeur paddled the canoe alongside as the old gentleman swam six miles across St. Andrews Sound to Little Cumberland Island. Oddly, nobody ever told one of the lifeguards that the story wasn’t true, so he showed up at dawn one Saturday to see the old man swim. The old man didn’t show up.
We were afraid to tell the lifeguard the truth. He may not know to this day.
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