Today I like: Solitude in hotel
Not so much: Fear of bedbugs in hotel
Here’s the next installment of my summer memories series. This one is a bit longer, because, as the title says, we packed a lot into a day at my grandmother’s beach house. I’ve aged. A whopping ten years old now! Do you think I kept a handle on my childish voice while maturing the narration? If not, well, be easy on me.
A Long Day
I always wake up early at Gammy’s house, but I like to lie in the bed for a while. I listen to my cousins and my sister and brother sleeping around me. The windows are open and I think that the sound of them breathing is like the ocean, in and out, in and out, in and out. It’s a nice sound but even that can’t keep me still for long. I stick my legs straight up and push hard on the lump above me, my cousin Matt sleeping in the top bunk. The bunk beds are so old that the top mattress sags like a hammock. My dad and my uncles slept in these bunk beds about a million years ago and I bet they were sagging even then. I remember when I could not reach that far but now I’m ten, which is the first age with two numbers, 1-0. My legs have grown a lot and I can give him a really good kick. He yells, “Quit it!” and throws a pillow over the edge of his bed but it misses me and lands on the blue and green shag carpet.
Everyone else groans and rolls around, especially my older cousins, Teddy and Jason. They’re both tired because they stay out super late at night. Sometimes the rest of stay up until they get home so they can tell us about all the bad things they’ve been doing, like drinking beer under the boardwalk and stealing change from the parking meters. But usually we’re asleep when they get home and they’re asleep when we wake up so all I ever see of them these days is their shaggy hair sticking out from under the covers. That’s okay with me because sometimes they scare me a little bit. I hear Gammy and Mom talking all the time about how they are delinquents. I’m not sure exactly what that means but I know it has to do with the parking meters and the beer and something about the weeds. I thought Boppy always took care of the garden but Gammy said that Teddy and Jason are smoking the dirty weed all the time so maybe they’re helping out. It seems like Gammy should be happy they’re helping but I can tell she is angry so I avoid them. They’re so old they don’t want to play with us anymore anyway.
Jason yells, “Shut up, some of us are trying to sleep!” and pulls his pillow over his head. I peek across the room at Mary and she is awake too. Matt is also awake since I kicked him so the three of us go downstairs. We have to pick our way around the bunk beds. That’s one of the best things about Gammy’s house, all of us cousins get to sleep in the same room, so it is never scary. If a vampire or a ghost or a werewolf came into the room someone would probably wake up, or at least you have a good chance the monster would eat someone else.
None of our parents are awake yet because they all stay up late sitting on the porch drinking and talking and laughing. We open up the hall closet, where Gammy keeps some toys and books for us. All the toys are as old as the bunk beds, from when dad and my uncles where little. Some of the toys seem pretty silly, like the wind-up apple that swallows pennies and spits them back out at you, but the books are great. There are little kid books like Where the Wild Things Are and Harry the Dirty Dog that I like to read to my baby brother, and also some bigger kid books like the Hardy Boys and even some Nancy Drew. I read while Mary and Matt play with old GI Joe’s and a tank.
Soon Gammy comes in and says “Good morning, Darlings!” and we say “Good morning!” back to her. She’s carrying the paper and has on one of her church outfits, white pedal pusher pants with a shirt with big purple flowers all over it and nice sandals. She can’t wear dresses to church on Saturday because she rides her bike. It’s not good for old ladies to ride bikes with their dresses flying up for all the world to see. When we drive over together to St. Ann’s for Mass on Sunday we all look fancy, but I think that no matter how fancy we look the priest knows that all my uncles are trying not to fall asleep because they stayed up so late the night before. The priest says “The BODY of Christ, the BODY of Christ,” so loud that at least it keeps them awake during Communion. My uncles whisper, “Hair of the dog,” when they go up to get the wine. I know it’s probably not right to make jokes at Communion but what can I say to them? I am only ten.
I’m glad today is Saturday and not Sunday so only Gammy goes to church, like she does every day. She pours our cereal in plastic bowls and calls up the stairs that it’s breakfast time, come and get it. People start appearing out of the different bedrooms, yawning and stretching and rubbing their eyes. The grown-ups slurp coffee and smoke cigarettes and stare into space waiting for the coffee to wake them up. I do not know how grown-ups can drink coffee and smoke cigarettes when it’s already so hot outside. I sweat just looking at them with all that extra hotness.
Jason and Teddy are the only ones still sleeping and Gammy yells to them, “Eat now or forever hold your peace!”
One of them yells back, “We’re still sleeping!”
Gammy scowls and says, “Let them go hungry.”
Teddy stays in bed but Jason finally comes out with puffy eyes and a towel wrapped around his neck. Jason does all kids of weird things these days but the towel is weird even for him. Gammy says, “Take that towel off your neck at the table.”
Jason says, “No.”
Matt and Mary and I stop eating our cereal and look at each other over our bowls. Gammy turns and just stares at Jason.
Jason says again, “No,” but his head sinks a little deeper into his towel, so it looks like the towel is trying to swallow him.
Gammy walks to him and whispers something in his ear that no one else can hear. We all watch, even the other grown ups have noticed something is happening. Jason pulls the towel off his neck and I stare some more. I wonder if he ran into some bad jelly fish in the ocean because he has lots of big red and purple bruises all over his neck. My Uncle Dave makes a funny coughing noise in his throat and my dad says, “Way to go, Jay.”
Gammy sniffs loudly and pours his cereal, and he hunkers over it, scarfs it down in about two seconds and leaves the table. Later I will tell my cousin Leigh about Jason and the jellyfish and she will sigh. She tells me those marks aren’t stings, they’re hickies.
“What are hickies?”
“Its means some girl was sucking on his neck really hard.”
This does not make any sense to me but Leigh is thirteen so I believe her.
After Jason disappears, my dad goes back to puffing away and looking at the sports page. “Dad,” I say, “We have to plug in.”
He keeps reading.
“Dad, come on, we have to plug in,” and he still keeps reading. “DAAAD!”
“WHAT?” He glares at me over his glasses.
“We have to go plug in the umbrella.”
“Okay, Okay, Okay. Y’all are a bunch of slave drivers.” He snuffs out his cigarette in the big clamshell ashtray and pushes back his chair.
We scramble to grab our bathing suits while our dads gather all the stuff we need for the day: umbrella, beach chairs, bag of beach toys, towels, boogie boards, cooler of beer. Everyone has to carry their own towel around their neck and something else. I grab one of the boogie boards because it is easy to sling over your shoulder as you walk over the dune. The lifeguards are still setting up so it is not quite nine o’clock. We always have to get out early because we have a special spot where the Alexanders have always sat since the days when there were only three houses on Fourth Street. If we don’t get there early some tourists who don’t know better might take it.
We spread out our stuff so that we will have plenty of space, because there is nothing worse than when someone comes and sets up right on top of you and blocks your view. Of course all the families we know that have old house know this is rude. They also know it’s rude to kick sand on people as you walk by, or shake out your towel so the sand flies all over everyone’s stuff, or feed the seagulls so they swarm around trying to steal everyone’s food and pooping everywhere. There are all kinds of ways to be rude at the beach. My mom and Gammy have been teaching me about them forever.
Once we’re set up I hear the lifeguards blow the long whistle that means they’re watching us. All us kids sprint to the water. It’s freezing and I gasp when it hits my legs but I don’t care. I run straight through the surf and dive through the next wave. When I was small I was afraid of the ocean. I would stand on the sand with Gammy and cry anytime my parents went swimming. I don’t know why I was ever scared because now I think the ocean is the greatest place on earth. It’s much better than a pool because it is always moving and changing. I ride the waves up and down. I practice my summersaults and back flips. I pretend I’m a mermaid or a dolphin, or maybe a shipwreck victim floating on a piece of my sunken ship, which is really my boogie board. I can even dive under the biggest waves after they crash and the water is rolling and churning like it’s boiling in a pot. My cousins taught me to swim down to the bottom to get below the chop. I swim straight and stiff like a board until it passes.
We splash each other and play keep away with an old football, and everyone tries to dunk everyone else. I scream when my cousins swim under the water and grab my legs, because even though I know it’s one of them it could also be a shark. We yell to my dad and my two uncles, “Come in, come in!”
They yell back, “We’re not hot enough yet!”
Another thing I don’t understand about grown-ups is why they have to be a certain hotness to get in the water. It’s always hot at the beach. The water is way more fun than sitting sitting sitting on your butt in a beach chair.
Finally we see Dad and my two uncles walking towards the water. They dive in over the surf and start racing each other along the waves. My dad and my uncles are the best body surfers on our beach. Even my grandfather Boppy is still good at it even though he is really old. The most most most fun thing to do in the ocean is climb on Dad’s back and hold onto his shoulders. We ride the waves in, like Dad is a giant boogie board. Dad stands and waits for the perfect wave. I cling to his back like a baby monkey. The waves come in rows and they look huge to me. Dad waits and waits and waits until I am sure the wave will crash on our heads. He says, “Hold on tight.”
I take a huge breath. The wave picks us up and throws us forward, like a baseball shooting out of a pitching machine. My head sticks up out of the water and I laugh as we bounce along on top of the wave, all the way in to the shore. Dad finally lifts his face out of the water and I wonder how he can hold his breath that long. He says, “Whoo-whee!”
I give him the high-five. My dad is really cool sometimes.
We’ve been in the water so long that my teeth start to chatter and my fingers and toes are all pruny. Mom comes and stands at the shore and yells, “It’s almost lunchtime and you’re frozen. Dry off and have some lemonade.”
We sit wrapped in towels and drink lemonade while Mom walks up to the house to help Gammy with the sandwiches. Gammy and Boppy never come down to the beach until lunchtime, because Mom says they spend the whole morning putzing around the house. Gammy reads and plans dinner and Boppy fixes things and works in his garden. I think they need a break from all of us for a few hours.
Mom and Gammy drag the lunch cooler over the dune. Dad and Uncle Dave meet them and carry it the rest of the way. They set the cooler under the umbrella in the shade and wait for Gammy to open it. She passes out the sandwiches to us kids sitting on boogie boards. Most of my family eats toasted tomato sandwiches, which is toast with a piece of tomato and mayonnaise. I think toasted tomato is gross so I have peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread, which is cool because we always eat wheat bread at home. Even though I like smooth peanut butter I don’t mind when my sandwich is a little crunchy with sand. We also eat peaches from the produce stands and drink more lemonade. The grown-ups drink cans of beer, but they hide them in koozies because it’s against the rules to drink beer on the beach. Then Gammy pulls out our dessert: little Christmas cookies with red and green sugar all over them. She buys bags and bags of them on sale after Christmas. We sit on the beach all summer and munch little Santas and snowmen and trees and bells. We say “Ho, ho, ho,” and sing Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
After lunch I’m tired. I like to sit on Mom’s lap while she talks to Gammy. They talk about books and the news and what the Pope said lately about this and that, but they also talk about whoever in the family is not down that weekend. I hear all kinds of interesting stuff. Just this summer Mom and Gammy were talking about my Uncle Kelly bringing his boyfriend to visit. It seemed weird to me that he would have a boyfriend since he is a boy himself, so I asked my cousin Leigh about it.
“He’s gay,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. “What’s gay?”
She said, “It means he like to kiss other boys instead of girls.”
Leigh has learned a lot of stuff since she was ten like me.
Anyway, when I’m tired and I sit on Mom’s lap I wrap a towel all around my head so no one can see me. Sometimes I sleep for a while listening to the waves and the seagulls squawking, even though I am way too old to take a nap. With me sitting on Mom she finally gets hot enough to swim. I run and dive in to get the cold over fast, but Mom takes forever. Inch by inch. She complains about how this water is Fuh-reezing until we all gang up on her and splash her until she is soaked anyway. We swim for a while longer but I’m finally getting bored with swimming so I climb out and make a huge drip castle. Then I dig a wading pool for Brice and dig for sand crabs with Mary. I help Dad and my uncles build a wall and a moat in front of our umbrella to block the tide as it comes in. I play paddleball with Matt and Sam, and then we take turns burying each other in the sand. The sand is cool and heavy all over me but it starts to get itchy. I burst out and run to the ocean to rinse off.
By now I have enough sand in my bathing suit to fill a couple buckets. When I sit down I can feel it in the crotch liner of my suit like a little log. No matter how much I try I can’t rinse it out. I whine to mom that it’s bothering me and is it time to go back to the house yet? Mom tells me not for another hour. I’m cranky so I sit by myself. I write my name in the sand and make little tracks and tunnels for the toy cars. Somewhere there’s a dead horseshoe crab stinking everything up. I wish it would wash out to sea.
I hear the lifeguards blast their long whistle, and that means we can go back to the house. But now I don’t want to. They leave their lifeguard chair and all the kids run to climb all over it. We pile up sand underneath and jump off. I love to sit up there because you can see everything, and I think I’d like to be a lifeguard some day and whistle all day long at tourists who swim too close to the jetties.
Mom calls to us that its time to go home. Everyone grabs something and drags it back up over the dune to Boppy’s little beach shed with the spinning duck on top. We sit around outside waiting to shower. Its such a nice feeling to pull off my wet sandy bathing suit and wrap up in a fluffy towel that has been flapping in the sun on the outside line. I run up to the bunkroom and dress as fast as I can before my boy cousins come up there. I run a brush through my hair and by the time I get downstairs I just have time to play tag for a while before Boppy whistles us in for dinner.
Tonight we’re having barbequed chicken and corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes, my favorite summer dinner. Everyone sits at the same table. Not like at my other grandmother’s house where the kids and the grown-ups have their own tables. At Gammy’s we squeeze together, so you has to keep your elbows in and sit up straight so you don’t knock over the beer of the person sitting next to you. No one wants to sit beside my Uncle John, because he is left-handed and his jabbing elbows are famous in our family.
There’s lots of food and its really good so everyone eats and eats and does not say much for once. All us kids eat really fast because we’re ready to go into town. Every single night we walk up to town to get ice cream. Usually Dad and Uncle Dave and Uncle Ted take us. Mom stays home to help Gammy with the dishes. But tonight Gammy says to Mom, “Go ahead, I’ve got it.”
I’m double happy because my mom is coming, too. The kids shout and skip and race from one stop sign to the next. The parents walk behind us sipping beers in koozies and smoking cigarettes. It’s a long way up to town, like almost a mile. We walk along the road until we reach the boardwalk, where we run ahead until Mom calls, “Wait for us old folks!”
We stop and I run my hands along the railing. I’m careful because it looks smooth, but it can give you a splinter the size of a tree branch. When my parents catch up to us I skip some more. I lift my feet really high. Last summer a big storm knocked down the boardwalk. Since it was rebuilt nails stick up every few boards. They can trip a kid that is not watching where she is skipping. I have been walking this boardwalk my whole life. I know all its tricks.
We reach the end of the boardwalk and my cousin Leigh says to me, “Look, there’s Jason!”
I see my older cousin standing by the railing talking to some other teenagers, most of then girls. He flips his hair back and laughs and lights a cigarette, and I know he is trying to look cool. I don’t say hi because he would just pretend not too see us, because saying hi to your little cousins is not very cool, I guess. It’s too bad because he used to be fun.
We head toward the Bethany Beach Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour. The line is already out the door but it moves fast. Everyone always get the same thing. All the kids get rainbow ice cream on a cone. Mom gets a root beer float (yuck!) and Dad gets a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate. Both my uncles get butter pecan. We eat our ice cream at tables with high-backed fancy chairs and look at the old Coke ads on the wall with the big clunky cars and people wearing olden-days bathing suits. The girls in the posters have pink cheeks and tiny noses and I think my nose is already way bigger than that. I bet it will only get bigger. You’ll never see me and my nose in a Coke ad.
It’s dark by the time we start walking back and I’m so tired I can hardly move. Dad sticks me up on his shoulders, even thought I’m too big for that. I watch the end of his cigarette glow in the dark. Its looks like a Fourth of July sparkler flickering back and forth. I can’t stop staring at it, even if it smells awful. I don’t talk much. I just hold on and try not to get burned.
Suddenly we’re home. I drag my butt up the stairs and pull on my pajamas, and I don’t even care if my boy cousins are in the room. Leigh says, “Do you want to wait for Jason and Teddy?”
I say, “Sure.” I want to sound like I’m not tired but I know I’ll never make it. I go downstairs and kiss everyone goodnight. All the grown-ups are sitting on the porch. Dad has his guitar and Boppy has his little piano keyboard. My mom comes upstairs and tucks in all of us cousins. She kisses us all goodnight, which makes me proud because she is everyone’s favorite aunt. My cousins would rather have her that their own moms. We sleep with our heads towards the window to catch some of the breeze. Leigh is talking about something and I know I say, “Yeah,” but I’m not really hearing her. I’m listening to the sounds floating up from downstairs. Women’s laughter and men’s music. It’s been a long day.