In summer we find ourselves driving along the sandy roads of our past. The creep of time and population alter these places that call us home: dirt roads are now paved and dotted with new development, shopping malls replace the row of two-room cabins, old homes torn down for duplexes, but despite these changes you go back. Those of us lucky enough to descend from a large sprawling brood, lucky enough to remember when the whole sea-side town part of that extended family, yearn to see what remains of the the old haunts, to hear the old familial laugh, to glean from the next generation of faces those same big eyes or jaw line you knew way back when you tooled around with your gang of cousins going from beach to kitchen to beach to ice cream stand.
Place evokes all the wonder of childhood, the boundless promise summer vacation held. In our mind’s eye we still see the overgrown hemlock and stately oaks lining the way. From sunup to sundown is the draw of the beach. Ours, along the southern side of the Long Island Sound is white stones where only at low tide do your feet feel the relief of sand. Small sailboats dot the water while the grand ferry commands the horizon back and forth across to Connecticut several times a day. A short row of brightly colored cabanas hold the back edge as a sometime refuge, but the sparkle of blue green waves occupies us endlessly.
My great-grandfather found this sanctuary, and we, for five generations, still descend upon this sand to feed the yearning to be as we were when we thought life lasted forever. Reunions, whether they are those of mother and daughter and granddaughter, or two cousins, or uncle and niece, or in a well-orchestrated gathering of 150, no matter, the place alone will transport you back to when every child ran with sun-bleached hair and a freckled nose, shouting and racing ahead, when you moved about in a pack not quite sure how you were related but just by one glance you knew you were. At the beach, after you hoofed it all the way, first cutting through wooded paths to one cousin’s house, then over sandy side-roads to another’s dragging your towel the whole way, you’d arrive at the beach to see three or four striped umbrellas and countless low chairs filled with your relations. Men, either still at work in the city or out on the golf course, arrived late afternoon, but the mothers, your mother and her mother, her sisters and her cousins, all were there, all laughing and shouting just like you’d be doing with your set.
One step on that white rocky beach, a cacophony of remembrances flood. As I take a pre-breakfast dip with brother and son, I float, not only in water but in time, and still hear my grandmother’s curious inquiry into my budding life or my father’s decree to fully submerge into the water, now! Other sounds and smells are caught there, in those lapping waves and swirling salts, which we heirs still sense. Summer after summer we return to our sacred place because from those roots our family tree still grows.