Well, my first letter was lost somewhere on the beach at Head of the Meadow where we were yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Further back than that I can’t remember. It’s all a lovely blur of sand and sky and the blue ocean sprinkled with kids in bright bathing suits. I don’t eavesdrop on the beach. It’s all about the sound of waves. Until now, this summer has sped by leaving no mark, no impression. What’s up with that? Is it age, or had it fast-forwarded for everyone? Here, though, the days are endless, as they are supposed to be. The past ten days have been one long smooth moment, kind of like a sandbar. Maybe time passes more slowly by the sea. There is always a prop plane lazing somewhere above, a sound of nature by now. The kids are always in the water. The sun moves slowly. We are never, ever ready to leave the beach until suddenly, we are.
Chuck has rented this house on the Cape. Most of my family is here, and it is heaven. His lovely daughter Hannah will come late tonight, and Catherine’s boys will be all over her, at nine, they love a beautiful girl. Justine, my son Ralph’s daughter, is reading, or rather, failing to read, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, a book I’ve never read and she can’t stand. Summer reading. I remember loving doing summer reading although I can’t recall a single assigned book. All I know about Mary Shelley, or all I think I know, is that she was crazy in love with Lord Byron (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”) but now I can’t remember any of his poetry, only that he was handsome, had a club foot, and died swimming the Hellespont. Tim recommends that once she’s finished the book she should watch Young Frankenstein, and then we try to remember what else she wrote, and somehow, after a bit, we find ourselves on Dover Beach, each one of us recalling a number of favorite lines. It takes me 24 hours to recall “swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight” which impresses the hell out of Chuck, who has remarked from time to time that maybe he shouldn’t have gone to college either, maybe he’d remember more.
I love your magical place, the circle in the meadow where you and your friends went to be together. I guess my magical place was the beach in Amagansett, which I think of now. Amagansett in the forties and fifties when nobody had heard of the tiny village, when Schellinger’s Well Drilling and Toppings, which was part grocery, part soda fountain, part magazines and newspapers, and the Two Sisters’ Tearoom were still fixtures of Main Street. We went every summer, no matter how far away we lived (Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Paul). It is still beautiful of course, almost too beautiful, because it now reeks of money. Well groomed everything. Back then it was really just the water, and our grandmother’s house on Indian Wells Highway. Ken Mulford ran the ABA, and he sold candy and sodas, but our lunches were the hard boiled eggs and chicken sandwiches (crusts cut off) that our grandmother made us. We walked to the beach, which glittered at the end of our road. Once, in a great hurricane whose name I forget, the water came as far as the Bluff Road. I still remember my grandmother’s phone number: Amagansett 7-3559.
There goes a helicopter, probably looking for sharks. There are few seals on this beach, and the water is dotted with swimmers.
People. Yeah, people. I love them. I love them on the beach especially. Nobody is staring at I Pods or cellphones, they are building castles and shivering in towels, rushing into the waves (which today, just before they break, are pale as peeled cucumbers). Chuck and I sit together, exchanging a word or two. When someone particularly overweight staggers past, I refrain from asking him if I’m that fat, for fear of his answer. We’ve been pals for 36 years. Good god. We both love the woods on the way to Head of the Meadow. The trees are small and twisted, gnarly, like gnomes. People camp there, but I’d be worried. There might be bears. “Bears?” Says Chuck. “There are no bears here. What would they do?”
Catherine’s cat had kittens the day before we arrived, and she brought the little family with her in a box. Catherine, the keeper of tiny things. One died the other morning, and there was sadness, but these things happen, and Catherine wrapped her in a washcloth and thought about where to bury her. Or him. Too young to tell, although its little eyes were already open.
Jennifer does all our cooking, every night another delicious supper for us grown-ups. She loves to cook, spends hours fixing dinner, and then we eat it all up in five minutes. The kids eat mac and cheese out of a box but seem to thrive. The twins (two sets of them) spend all day riding waves, fearless. Ralphie, who burns easily, wears a bright long-sleeved t-shirt in the water, you can always keep track of him. Putting on my own hideous bathing suit is the most strenuous thing I do all day except for getting out of the ocean or getting up from my beach chair.
Which reminds me that everything I promised myself I’d do like get a personal trainer (hahahahaha) is still undone. But the season of new pencil boxes and notebooks is right around the corner (January first is nonsense, the New Year starts in fall) and maybe I can do better when we get home.
There’s a little fall in the air.
Hope you are thriving and writing, thank god for these letters,