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Gaining a Beachhead on Tradition

August 03, 1989|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — They begin arriving about 5 p.m.

There are mothers and fathers and children struggling with bags containing everything from beach towels to pizza. For the next three hours the adults will occupy folding chairs and sip cold drinks or munch fried chicken while the children frolic happily in the nearby sand.

"The whole idea is for the grown-ups not to move," said Kay Pitner, 41, an elementary schoolteacher and one of the founding members of the group.

It is time again for the annual summer tradition called Wednesday-at-the-Beach.

It started seven years ago when four neighbor families decided to meet for a Wednesday evening picnic at Mother's Beach, a secluded half-mile stretch of sand on Appian Way at the Long Beach Marina. The place is popular with parents because it has no waves and lots of lifeguards. The idea, the original picnickers recall, was to celebrate "hump day"--that magical point in the middle of the week when one is "over the hump" and needs merely to glide on through to Friday.

A Tradition Begins

The picnic was a success, so they had another. Then another. Before they knew it they had created a tradition that has featured a gathering at precisely the same spot on the beach each Wednesday evening from May through September since 1983.

Through word of mouth and friends inviting friends, the original group of four families has grown to dozens, with attendance sometimes reaching more than 50 adults and children.

Eventually interest was so high that the group appointed a 10-member executive committee to meet during the winter months. Among other things, the committee maintains a mailing list to send out annual announcements of each year's mid-March "opening ceremonies," faithfully records its proceedings in minutes distributed to members and organizes committees to carry out such tasks as setting opening dates, planning non-beach "road trips" such as the coming outing to Angels' Stadium, and organizing weekly at-the-beach collections for Lottery tickets.

If they ever win the big one, some members say, they plan to begin holding their Wednesday night sessions on the French Riviera. A more modest win, they say, will at least assure a catering service for the gatherings at Mother's Beach. In the meantime, most participants are content to bring selections from the area's wealth of fast-food outlets.

Mothers Escape Kitchens

"That's the beauty of Wednesday night," said Fern Solomon, 36, who has three children and sells musical wind chimes for a living. "Your kitchen stays clean."

Said Mark Halloran, a 40-year-old hemodialysis technician and one of the founding members: "It's real organized, but not at all serious. You just come down here and everyone's here."

Although most regulars live about half a mile from one another, others wander in from out of the county and occasionally even out of state. Teresa Hein, 36, attended regularly until last year when she and her family moved to Boulder City, Nev. But on a recent Wednesday evening, Hein, in town with her 5-month-old son to visit relatives, dropped by Mother's Beach to surprise the Wednesday-at-the-Beach revelers.

"I knew where I could find them," she said. "These are old dear friends who are keeping a wonderful tradition. There's a real warmth here, a real family feeling. In this day and age you don't always find that."

Wide-Ranging Discussions

The camaraderie seemed evident as the adults, sitting in a semicircle of folding chairs facing the water, chatted about subjects ranging from home improvements to parenting techniques as their children romped happily in the sand.

In the past, regulars say, members have helped each other through traumas including divorce, unemployment, problems with children and the deaths of loved ones. On this particular day, though, the mood was upbeat. The highest dramatic moment, in fact, came when the group offered a 13-year-old girl $3 to catch an escaped beach ball blowing rapidly away in the water.

Against all expectations, the youngster succeeded amid the wild and unabashed cheers of the audience.

"This is fun and safe for our kids," said an enthusiastic Sheila Everett, 42. "We can relax without worrying about them. It's cheaper than therapy."

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