During my years on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol (1950′s and 60′s) a common source of aggravation was the problem of lost children. This aggravation was not because children got lost, but because of the incredible amount of guilt we had laid on us by the mothers of those children.
A typical scenario went something like this. My partner and I would be sitting on our lifeguard stand watching the bathers. All of a sudden a woman would appear hysterically screaming that her child had drown. Immediately, our blood would turn cold and guilt would soar through our veins, even though we’d been through this same scene many times.
Trying to calm her, while assuaging our own guilt, we’d ask when the last time was she saw the child, and invariably the answer would be as she was heading for the ocean. (like the kid was bent on drowning herself).
We’d try and calm her by saying that just about 100% of the time children wandered off on their own up beach. Her response: “No, I know she drowned” further adding to our guilt and sending shivers down our spines.
Now let us visit what was happening from the daughter’s perspective. She had wandered to the waters edge where, for awhile, she amused herself by playing a game of retreating from the dissipating waves, as they halfheartedly chased her up the beach. Then she’d reverse this scenario by chasing them back into the sea. She was soon bored and started looking around to see what other nuggets of interest were to be found. Looking up beach she saw the piers, and something else that looked like a Ferris wheel. Well what inquisitive child can ignore that temptation? So off she wandered, happily on her way, to explore these wondrous new sites ahead.
After covering half the distance to the pier she became disoriented, frightened and full of guilt for wandering off. As she continues walking toward her goal she realizes she’s lost and begins to cry. Passing a lifeguard stand a guard spots her and recognizes her familiar predicament immediately. He takes her to the South Carolina beach patrol tent, the one he works out of, and turns her over to the medical doctor. While the doctor soothes her, he covers her shivering little body with an “A.C.B.P.” sweatshirt, and hat, and tells her she’s now an official mascot. This distracts her and she stops crying.
Earlier the Captain at Michigan Avenue had put out a call to all the beach tents informing them they had a missing child. The phone rang at Michigan almost as soon as South Carolina discovered the child. The beach patrol ambulance was immediately dispatched to Michigan.
The mother was informed and we were relieved of guilt as she was waiting with the captain when the ambulance pulled up. I don’t think I nave to describe the scene as I’m sure you’ve seen hysterically happy mothers before. When all the commotion died down the mother ask her daughter why her face was so dirty. She said the nice lifeguards had bought her a fudgie wudgie from the man selling ice cream on the beach and they also made her a mascot for the day.
And so friends, concludes another happy ending in the annals of Atlantic City Beach Patrol history.