Memoir Continues

Sure many folks live in the same town as their grandparents and a parcel of aunts uncles and cousins, but we weren’t that family for my parents decided to cross both the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridge to raise us up in New Jersey. Sure, we made the journey back over those bridges, back to Flatbush, back to their old neighborhood on Christmas and Easter. But corralling us six wasn’t a spontaneous occurrence. It took the grandeur of a holiday to make it happen.

big house

Summer was a different story, however, for there was a history that went back generations, before even my parents, that anchored us to the north shore of Long Island, inside the gates of Belle Terre. My great-grandfather built his three story Victorian on a bluff overlooking the bay. From his vantage he could see all that came through the breakwaters, including his fleet of working tugs. His ten summered under this roof, and many made sure, once married, to continue the tradition by bringing their children there; and so it was for me summering there too. Sandy roads zigzagged between colossal homes each holding various generations of relatives, and children wandered with much freedom between them all.

The rocky beach was the constant. At any time of day, one could find a relative there to chat it up. My generation arrived into this well-established summer community without missing a beat. In my deepest memory I barely remember seeing an parent the whole of August as I ran about in that sanctuary. My mother was finally within walking distance of both her parents and her best friend and stole away with all the freedom we too enjoyed.

The two, Eileen McAllister and Barbara Rice, met while in elementary school in Brooklyn, and soon became fast friends. Friends who became related when Barbara married my mother’s cousin. Throughout my childhood, I knew she was my godmother, and my Aunt, but Barbara’s role as my mother’s best friend took precedence over any other. Those two would hide away in each others’ bedrooms, speaking their special invented language if we children drifted within earshot, and for the entirety of their years, this special relationship never altered. Children? Between the two they had 14: Barbara had 8, while my modern mother only 6. But the responsibilities we 14 brought into their lives never stopped them from laughing up a storm year after year. In my memory, the only time my mother did close her bedroom door was when Aunt Barbara arrived.

gate

And so we drifted from house to house, until we were summoned. Corrine wasn’t a fan of our August retreat. Not a fan of bugs or beaches or being removed from all her friends back in New Jersey, but she endured with a few rituals of her own.

One such ritual had become a practice, an event that we squealed for: to ride on top the big station wagon back from the strip of rocky Long Island Sound beach that held our August afternoons to the wooden cottage where she swore she saw the ghost of Mr. Crystal rock in the big pine rocker next to the fireplace.

Flying flat on the rooftop I lay pinned between the cool luggage rack metal and my second cousin once removed, who even more importantly than that, was my mother’s best friend’s daughter. From our youth we watched with envy our mother’s retreat behind closed doors, a flurry of secrets being shared, none of which we were privy to but we too bared our darkest corners till long after childhood ended. As Corrine drove the car tree branches whipped and tickled our arms and legs while the early evening air shot cool on our sunburned skin.

sound

The sandy windy roads were narrow and overgrown with lush vines twisted around the dense trees which we somehow memorized from our horizontal perspective and could calculate the precise location on our speeding wagon. Corrine was our ferry our shuttle our only retreat from walking as she piloted my mother’s station wagon back and forth between the wooden houses in this summer community filled with family at every turn. Days were spent making food for the galloping hordes while mothers laughed and fathers disappeared with golf clubs and children wandered along windy narrow tree lined sandy roads only called home by their own growling stomachs.

Sometimes we would wedge my sister between Lizzie and me to keep her from flying off the top of the wagon and into the thick growth that harbored ticks. We ran along those overgrown paths during the day on our way to the rocky beach, but ticks hid at the end of many a pointed finger and we were checked from head to toe before our evening baths. Our Yorkshire terrier, who ran always on our heels, seemed to attract more of those blood sucking bugs than we could keep track of, but our Corrine pulled them off like a skilled surgeon and while it was frightening to see the blown-up blood-filled bodies, it didn’t stop us from lying in the soft leafy beds deep in the dark undergrowth and along the sandy narrow paths we cut with our bare hands and constant wanderings.

ferry

Out of Office

This is our vacation out of office week. Everyone home. Eating. Laughing. Swimming. Drinking. Running. Loving. Together.

Lucky us, right?

water

These last weeks of summer, stop reading the hate tweets, stop scanning the headlines for the latest outrage, and stop worrying about the outcome next November. Instead, why not take a moment to see flowers, to hear joy, and to feel warmth? Be grateful. Remember you love life.

flowers

#summerwins

XXOO

Writing What You Know: part 2

There is no denying that at the center of memoir is an unreliable narrator. As I wrote yesterday,”Working with memory is even less faithful than fiction. There is nothing to google or investigate. Sure I can ask a brother or two, but I don’t remember any of them standing with me in that short hallway between the kitchen and my father’s den.” In memoir you stand alone, even if the subject of your work is the whole lot of you, you have only yourself to corroborate with.

sean5

As I plunge further into my own murky and dark past I have only my instinct to rely on; here the tenants of fiction and non-fiction collide, for they are both born of the creative spark that ignites my fingers across the keyboard. Beyond that they deviate.

Continue reading

wandering into waterfalls

Living in the rural and magnificent state of Vermont gives us countless opportunity to walk, swim, and rejoice in clean air and water. Rivers, large and small, and lakes dot the picture perfect landscape, and if you are willing to hike a bit, waterfalls too abound. Recently, we spent a few afternoons when the sun was bright and warm seeking out a variety of swimming holes. Lucky us, right?

falls9 Continue reading

another farewell

This photo was captured on my last afternoon with both my mother and my godmother, and it will be a precious memento for years to come. We stood on a balcony in the Palm Beach sunshine and did nothing but smile in that embrace. Now, they are both gone, but I count myself the luckiest of girls to have been with them for six decades, for their love is an epic tale.

IMG_3862

Continue reading

Write What You Know

There is an old adage, “write what you know,” that has been sounding away in my mind. Not that I ever try to write what I don’t know, but sorting out what story is the story to tell, the story that rolls around in my mind, and has, for years, isn’t always a direct line. To coax it into being I thought to set up a new writing area in my bedroom, away from the kitchen and living room, which although might be perfect blogging spots, tend to distract when one needs more concentrated concentration. To aid the process we carried in a table from my grandmother’s summer home stored in the garage attic. This, I reassured my timid self, is a starting point. And with that I started writing.

desk Continue reading

Our America

This country. This #America gone #hashtag #crazy yet stalled so fucking bad in Washington that even the Senator’s families don’t live there anymore. Just fly in and fly out to cast their party-driven vote. This America. A jumble of contradiction at every turn. Wide rural vistas divided by pristine forests and muddy rivers. Farmland rich with harvest promise. Yeah, promise. But that’s a  lily-white view tarnished once one passes under a big-mother Confederate flag flying with bravado, (yeah, sadly we saw those) or an oversized Trump billboard (crazy, but yeah, saw those too) promoting all the trappings of White Supremacy with his sneer. That sneer. Sickeningly an advocate of hatred. (Will anyone really be able to vote for that world, his world of hate?) After our recent 14 State and 4,500 mile drive-by, and the current racially driven atrocities, it is clear to this blogger that the veneer of the American Dream is wearing thin, if not for all of us, at least for the Other in this country.

Continue reading