Today I like: Moving back to Charleston!
Not so much: Packing for move to Charleston!
I’m doing something different today. In my pre-move purging I discovered a series of essays I wrote about six years ago. They all focus on my memories of summers at my Grandmother’s house in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Since I’m swamped with packing, and it is beach season, I thought I’d post them here.
From a writing standpoint, voice plays a big role in these essays. I remember really enjoying getting back into the voice of my childhood self in these little reminiscences. It’s fun (and a great exercise!) for a writer to explore difference ages in voice. Hopefully I caught some of age seven in this one. Enjoy!
It’s too hot to move or bother each other or even talk so Mary and I just sit on the front steps and wait. I think about Dad’s new car. It’s light blue and about a hundred feet long. And it’s a diesel, whatever that means, but all I care about is the air-conditioning. Mom won’t run it in the house because it’s too expensive so we all just about boil in there. But on the drive to Gammy’s beach house we will blast the AC. Last summer, before Dad started working for Uncle Dave, we still had the old station wagon with no AC and we had to drive the whole way with the windows down. It was so loud I could not hear the radio or Mom and Dad talking about all the funny things my Dad and my uncles have been doing. I could not even hear myself when we all started singing like we usually do. All except Dad. He never sings with us even when Mom says, “Why won’t you sing? You are the singer in this family!”
Oh, thank goodness, here he is. My Dad gets out of the car and we jump down the steps to meet him. We forget it’s a hundred million degrees for a minute. He has a brown paper bag and Mary, who is only four, yells, “Daddy! Daddy, is there ice cream for us in there?” But I am seven and I know that its not ice cream, it never is. It’s always a six-pack of Coors Light. Dad brings one home every night. He stops at Louie Louie’s liquor store on the way home for smokes and beer. I used to look in there, too, but now I know better since I am seven.
Dad says, “Hey babies, are we ready to get on the road?”
“Almost!” I say, and we run upstairs to get our gray plastic suitcase with latches on the side. It’s old and crooked, so Mary stands on it to mash it closed while I flip the latches.
Then I drag it down the stairs and Mom says, “Leave it there, honey, your Dad will get it.” And I do because I know Dad likes to pack the trunk just so.
Dad yells, “Let’s haul ass! There will be a back-up at the bridge!”
Mom grabs my brother, little Brice, who is one, and her purse. Mary and I get to the car first. We push and shove over who gets to sit behind Mom. Dad is so tall your legs get squished the whole ride if you sit behind him, plus his cigarette smoke flies back in your face and makes you want to puke.
Mom says, “Steph gets to sit behind me. She’s taller.”
And Mary says, “She always gets to sit behind you. I want a turn!”
“When you are the tallest you can sit there,” says Mom.
I laugh and Mary says, “Hmmmph.” Because we both know she will never be the tallest.
I sink into the plush seats, and it’s like sitting on a giant powder blue marshmallow. Much better than the seats in the station wagon that were so hot you’d burn your butt and then sweat and stick to the seat. All of us Alexanders, just a bunch of flies on tape. This car even has a tape player. We’ve been listening to Michael Jackson all summer long and now I know all the words. I hope Mom and Dad will pop that in but they want to listen to Steve Winwood sing about a diver. When I ask what he is talking about Mom says, “This is grown up music, honey, you would not understand.” I like Michael Jackson better because I understand all about Michael and his girlfriend running from the horrible dead people. I think about them a lot at night when I can’t sleep.
We pull out of our driveway and everything is great. Brice sits in his car seat between Mary and I. He eats cheerios and drools, which is what he is best at. We call him the Drool Bomb Baby because if you hold him up in the air and say “You’re so cute” or “Goo goo goo,” or one of those things people are always saying to babies, he will smile and drop a drool bomb right on your face. We think it’s funny but my great grandma Mimi thinks it’s gross. She says babies did not drool like that in her day and is there something wrong with him? She made my Mom so nervous that Mom asked Dr. Ortega about it. He told her it’s nothing, just his teeth coming in and babies have always drooled. So maybe Mimi is not so smart as she thinks, or maybe she is so old she can’t remember if her babies drooled.
Once we get on the highway I start thinking about what a long drive it is. It is almost three hours to Gammy’s house and that is one hundred and fifty miles. I know we just left but it already seems like a long time. So I ask my Dad, “How many more miles?” and he tells me about a hundred and forty. Ugh, that is forever. I hope we can stop at McDonald’s like we sometimes do but as we pass it Mom says, before I even ask, “Gammy is making spaghetti so we will eat when we get there.”
Oh well, if I can’t have McDonald’s spaghetti is pretty good too. After a long long time we finally get to the Bay Bridge. It’s huge and miles long and we love to look out the windows at all the tiny sailboats like ducks bobbing in the bay. Dad scares Mom because he spends the whole time looking out the window and pointing at boats and birds and whitecaps and not looking where he is going. Mom grabs the door handle and pushes her feet against the floor and says, “Good lord, Brice, watch the road.”
And Dad says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve been over this bridge fifty eleven times, right?”
We say “Yeah!” because Dad is thirty-two and he has been going to Bethany Beach since before he was born so that is a lot of trips over the Bay Bridge.
Once we are over the bridge I ask again, “How many more miles?” and Dad says about a hundred and ten and I sigh. But now the scenery is at least more interesting. The roads are small and there are lots of farms and towns with only one gas station. When we pass the cow farms Dad rolls down the window and sticks his head out and yells, “MOOOOOO!” and we all yell “MOOOOO!” too. Then we pass the chicken farms and they smell so bad we all hide our noses in our shirts. The chicken farms are the worst. Even worse that passing a skunk hit on the road. “Chickens linger,” says my Mom.
We also pass by abandoned houses which we call Monster Houses. When I was smaller I was scared of them. When Dad would say “There’s a Monster House!” I would hide my eyes. But now I like to look at the old houses. I wonder who used to live there and where they went and why they would just leave their house and all their things to be ruined. I tell Mary to look if there is an old bike or tire swing in front of the Monster Houses but she does not want to look. She is four and still scared. Brice is too little to care. He just waves his arms and drools.
Mary has to pee so we pull over next to a field of cows. Mom wants us all to go so we don’t have to stop again. I squat behind the car door so no one can see me. It’s hard to concentrate on not falling over in the grass or peeing on your underwear. Boys have it way easier. Dad just stands there and goes and says “MOOOOO!” to the cows that are watching us while they chew and chew and chew. I’m happy that I don’t pee on myself. I say a big “MOOOOO!” and climb in my seat. When we start moving again I say, “How many more miles?”
“I don’t know. About eighty. Don’t ask me again until we get to Coastal Highway.”
Now I ask Mom to sing something and she starts out:
Buffalo gals wont you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight,
Buffalo gals wont you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon,
And Mary and I join in
Dance with the dolly with the holes in her stocking and her knees kept a knocking
And her toes kept a rocking
Dance with the dolly with the holes in her stocking and she dance by the light of the moon
Mary and I just crack up because we think that song is a hoot. We sing it a bunch of times until Dad says, “Please. Please, something else.”
Mom says, “Why don’t you sing? You’re the singer in this family!”
Dad says, “I leave the singing to you and Mick Jagger.” We all know my Mom does not have a very good voice but she loves to sing so we all let her. We sing really loud so we drown her out a little.
We sing Sweet Baby James and lots of Beatles songs and that finally gets us to Coastal Highway. I ask Dad how many more miles. About thirty. We see all the familiar sights like the Sea-Esta Motel and old World War towers that sit on the dunes where the soldiers used to watch for submarines. Then there is the liquor store up on the right and I hold my breath. Maybe Dad won’t see it and we can just keep going. But he pulls over like usual. He has already drunk his six-pack so he needs more. I say, “Come on, Daddy, let’s go, we are almost there!” and Mom says, “There will be plenty of beer at the house.” But Dad always goes anyway and we all sit there about to jump out of our skins from sitting in the car for so long.
Finally he comes out and we’re on our way again. We leave the windows open but now I don’t mind. The air is has a fresh salty smell. It blows my hair back from my face as I stick my nose right out the window. We drive along the little string of land between the ocean and the bay. I feel very small stuck between all that water but also safe because we are heading to my Gammy’s house. It was one of the only ones that survived the big Northeaster about twenty years ago that knocked lots of houses in Bethany right off their stilts and into the ocean.
I ask “How many more miles?” even though I know we are almost there and Dad just ignores me because he knows I know. We pull over the Indian River Inlet bridge and Mary and I scream, “We’re here!”
Gammy’s house is the biggest on the street but it is tan like the sand and blends in so well with the dunes you might miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s not dark yet and I can see that my cousins are already here. Dad honk honk honks and squeezes his car in between Uncle Dave’s Cadillac and Uncle Ted’s big van, the one with the refrigerator in it. Before the car is even stopped I open the door and scoot out. Mom says, “Good lord, don’t ding the car door!” but I am skinny so I can squeeze.
I don’t have shoes on so I have to walk carefully over the gravel driveway, and then up the wooden stairs where Gammy’s teacup roses peek through the slats with their sneaky thorns. I rip open the screen door. Boppy painted a big smiley face on it to keep my Aunt Jane from walking through it again. The carpet is soft on my feet, even softer than the diesel’s cushions. I run down the hallway. There is Gammy, standing at the kitchen counter stirring a huge pot of spaghetti. She is tan and her gray hair is twirled up in a fancy bun on her head, and she wears lots of gold bracelets that clink together with their own music. She slaps her hands on her apron, the one with the crabs wearing chef hats all over it. She leans down to meet me.
“There you are, darling. We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. How was the drive?”
I hug her tight and say, “Fine Gammy, same as usual,” and then like my Mom always says, “Traffic was not too bad.” I smell her smell, Lansinoh skin lotion and sand and coral-colored lipstick. “Where are Leigh and Matt?”
“Playing tag out on the beach with a bunch of kids. Why don’t you head out for a while? Boppy will whistle you all in at dinner.”
“Okay, Gams,” I say, and I walk towards the back door. I am excited to see my cousins so I don’t spend much time saying hello. But for some reason I look back and I see my grandmother standing there, where she usually is, and she sees me looking and smiles. She says, “Go on, darling.” And I know she will always be there, just like this house in the storm, waiting and waiting and waiting.