My Dad drove a convertible. Once he turned onto our crab tree lined lane, the volume of his Beethoven’s Fifth rattling everyone’s windows, a harbinger of his arrival sending us out to greet him. Top down, music soaring, he was beaming in the sunshine and wind, after a long day of doctoring. After dinner rides to the Dairy Queen, a pile of neighborhood kids squashing into his back seat, quarters held tight in our palms, eager for one of those delicious dipped cones. My hair whipping around my face yet seriously nothing felt better on a hot night than those rides in his red convertible. Every summer I find myself, windows down, radio up, driving a bit too fast for the curves ahead, thinking of his love of all things summer, chasing those carefree snippets of youth.
Summer car rides stand out in my memories as the best fun. From the back seat of my dad’s convertible to the roof of my mother’s car, we traversed the sandy back roads on Long Island. As much as I have tried to capture those delightful summer years, there is always more to resurface and uncover, like this snippet.
The sandy, windy roads were narrow and overgrown with lush vines and short trees, which we somehow memorized from our horizontal perspective and could calculate the precise location on top 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 in the dawn with golf clubs and children wandered along overgrown and lush tree-lined sandy-roads.
It had become a practice, a ritual, an event that we squealed for: this 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 rock in the big pine rocker. I lay pinned between the cool roof rack metal and my second cousin once removed who even more importantly than that was my mother’s best friend’s daughter. We shared our darkest corners till childhood ended for us. As we drove, tree branches whipped and tickled our bare arms and legs while the early evening air shot cool on our sunburned skin.
Sometimes we would wedge my sister between me and Lizzie Beth 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 ear to ear before our evening baths. Our dog, 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.
These days I find myself solo riding along dirt roads headed to some swimming spot or farm stand, but those years when there was a filled backseat of my own are not too far to recall. There were always a few extra bodies back there, singing along with Janet or Madonna, the crew munching on plums, eager to race into whatever watering hole I could find. The ride home always a quieter one with sun-kissed faces contemplating supper and me driving along the dirt with rocks kicking up behind us like diamonds.
Although I don’t choose Beethoven to serenade my summer drives, the music is always loud, and the drama of the beats equal to his tempo. Of course there are days when I might be inclined to turn up the AC and close the windows, but not often. Summer here is fleeting, and having the air whip through from window to window, twirling my hair about, is paramount to summer joy in my book, especially if it involves a lake swim.
My Dad would love these long hot July days most of all.