Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The end of the summer makes me a bit melancholy. Listless, balmy days gone by and tucked into the crook of fall. When I was a kid, I went with my folks to the beach a lot. Sometimes just for a dip and other times we’d barge in on friends who had a spot on the bay, out past the Rockaways. There were always kids my age for me to toss a ball with, fish off the pier, or ride the boogie boards Oceanside.
The thing I remember most about our visits to the Smiths was that we’d stay with them till dusk. Eggplant waves of sky shaded above the wispy trees. Crickets chirping a mile past the walkway and the air redolent with creosote. I kept picking at the charred burger on my paper plate and nursing sips of Yoo-hoo. I could have easily slipped off to whizz firecrackers through Coke bottles over by the dugout, where all the other pre-teens dwelled, but I liked it better with the adults. I felt like I was budding into a grownup.
Mainly, we talked about old times I’d never lived through, but was eager to hear more about. Hot dogs for a nickel, pony rides, parachuting in Coney Island, it all sounded like a brave new world to me. To them, it was a touch of nostalgia. Another topic near and dear to our hearts was “The Honeymooners”, a show I’d grown addicted too. The reruns ran past midnight, but they were all new to me and wanted to catch as many as I could. Channel 11 referred to some as the Lost Episodes. Whenever we visited I played the ham— belted out both Ralph’s and Norton’s parts. “Official space helmet on Captain Video.” “Can it core a apple, oh, it can core a apple.”
If my dad tried to get a word in edgewise I’d push my eleven-year-old weight as far as it budged. Kenny, my dad’s buddy, let me play Ralph to his Norton or vice versa, whatever I wanted. And Lonnie, Mrs. Smith, would bring me another Yoo-hoo, as if I needed another sugar rush. My folks would say it’s time to go (Chop, chop) but I’d hang on for dear life. My back pressed into the stretchy fabric of my director’s chair, refusing to slip into my topsiders.
The Smiths were fun, but I had this odd feeling, even as a snot-nosed kid, that they didn’t have much company. When it was time for the final goodbye they wouldn’t let us go. One more laugh, brownie square, there was always a long lost picture to share. Lonnie would pack a goodie bag for me, complete with Crackerjacks, saltwater taffy, Pringles, Swedish fish, and baseball cards. My mother would reprimand her for being too generous, but Lonnie quipped she didn’t have anybody else to spoil.
I never thought much of this until I got to about fourteen, awkward of awkward ages. I guess I was spoiled, but I was even more spooked by Lonnie’s need to treat me in her auntie way. We really didn’t get to see the Smiths that much, only once in a while. I know they wanted to make the most of it. But, in my mind it was getting to be too much.
Nothing tragic happened to keep us from getting together. Things change. I was glad to get my break from them. It wasn’t till I was college age that I’d missed seeing them. I even mentioned it in passing what the Smiths were doing for Labor Day. Since I was home for the holiday, I figured it would be nice if we crashed in on them. That’s how we usually did it. Sometimes we brought over cold cuts, coleslaw, and potato salad, sometimes just a pie or two. And so we did, one last time drove to the Rockaways. The place looked exactly the same weeping willow greeted us by the porch and I pulled open the rusty hinged wooden front gate. The smell of beach, burnt corn on the cob, and the last embers of summer filled the air. I scratched the few prickly hairs growing on my chin. For a moment, it looked like nobody was home. Then we walked to the back deck and there, in the back, tending to a barbecue pit was a tall middle-aged man, one eye on his basting fork the other eye on his scampering kid.
“Pardon the intrusion,” my dad said.
And my mom and I followed cue. We didn’t really need to know anything else. My dad would’ve said something if he wanted to, but he didn’t. I had my first craving for Yoo-hoo, I hadn’t had in years and I licked my lips. I tasted seawater.
We spent that Labor Day at the public beach. Sand in my sandwich and a warm can of soda in my hand. I watched a skywriter streak a dusty white message across the cloudless blue. I looked for traces of the past with my bright blue future pushing forever into the sun-flecked sea.