After the divorce, the best part of my home life was summer breaks. We would come down to Florida to visit my mother’s parents. My mother would pack me and my sister into a minivan along with her sister and her three daughters. There would be a stop half way, and we’d then arrive at my maternal grandparent’s house. And I would set about making the best of memories
My grandmother was a spitfire of a woman. Quick witted and played by her own rules. She was incredibly loving, but strict and tough as nails. A side effect of raising five kids alone in days when that was uncommon. Her first husband, died in a freak accident when my mother was three years old, leaving behind a wife and four children. She worked as a nurse in the infant ward of a hospital which only added to her thick skin. Throughout my life, whether it was me crying over physical pain of doing something stupid as a child or emotional pain later in my life, she would repeat the line I have declared to be the family motto: “If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.”
While I obviously never knew my biological grandfather on this side of the family, there was a man named Harry that basically raised my mother and her siblings. He was the man I called Grandpa. About the time I was born, he had a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. The mental toll was apparently worse according to my grandmother. He barely put the effort in for his rehab but enough to be able to walk short distances with help of a cane or for longer outings he would use a motorized scooter.
My grandparents lived in a two bedroom house on the water. When we came down, there would be nine of us. Needless to say, the house was a bit crowded. My aunt and my mother would share the spare room, the two oldest cousins would get the pull out sofa, and then us younger three would sleep on the floor in the living room.
Every morning at 7AM, my grandfather would wake up, get dressed and start his walk to the kitchen. Every morning at 7:05AM, my grandfather would poke me with his cane. This was the signal to wake up and get the newspaper for him. I’d jump up, run outside in the Florida summer morning, grab the paper, come inside, pour him a cup of decaf coffee, put two eggs waffles in the toaster, and pass him his sugar free maple syrup. I’d get him situated, make myself waffles with regular syrup, and sit next to him in mostly silence and read the parts of the paper he was finished with. After breakfast, he would move to his recliner and put on some political talk show and I would sit and wait for every one to wake up.
Some afternoons, Grandpa would want to go to Sam’s on Hudson Beach which was at most a five minute walk. He’d choose one of us to join him. We all loved those times. We’d sit on his lap, and he’d let us drive his scooter. In the course of getting to the beach, you had to pass a bait shop. It was the almost the best part of the trip, second only to him getting us ice cream. As we passed the bait shop, he’d ask us to read the sign. We’d grin and say “Chip’s Bait and Tackle!” To which he’d reply “Nope! It says Chip’s Bait and TICKLE!” and proceed to tickle us relentlessly.
On afternoons Grandpa wouldn’t go to the beach, he would sit on the lanai and watch the afternoon storms roll in. One day, I decided to join him. I asked what he was doing, and he told me. Silence ensued. The next day, I again followed him and sat in silence. After a few more times, he invited me to sit on his lap. He told me does it because it reminded of his time in the Navy during World War II. He said the thunder reminded him of the sounds of the guns of the ship he served on. Each afternoon for the rest of the summer I would get a new memory. These afternoons were our moments, and I still treasure them.
I was born in New York. I spent the first eleven years of my life there, but as I look back it is obvious to me so much of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is centered around Hudson Beach. Summers spent there at first, then moving there, my first kiss, the first dose of mortality, falling in love, getting engaged. It all happened there. To this day, when I’m feeling lost, I make the drive to Hudson Beach to smile at the ghosts of my past