To my sister, Teri. I love you, dear.
Come, sit awhile in my stony yard, remember with me. Here, in New Mexico, where grass is a rare commodity, one dares not venture outdoors barefoot. But I don’t worry about my feet when my face craves the sunshine. I look up & close my eyes to its caress. I feel my mouth curving into a smile, even as my heart expands under its rays.
I have read in some blogs that the sun is actually an entity named “Ed.” Well, Ed & I have had a lifelong affair. I treasure sunshine like I treasure love. I crave it in the same way, with a similar longing & a powerful responsive opening of every cell to take it in. The sunshine here is like oranges, clearing the palate, a breath of gold, a blessing of warmth in which to sit &, in simplicity, To Be.
When I was little, when church was the biggest commitment of this day, I woke to an Easter basket of plastic-color straw & chocolate. Ah! Chocolate for breakfast! In a household where treats were always fruit, chocolate for breakfast was an unheard-of peak experience.
We dressed in our best for Easter… white gloves, hats, black patent leather shoes. We were given a dollar for the collection plate (the usual Sunday contribution being 50 cents, at least 25 of which went for a sugar cookie at the bakery en route.) I was in choir, we sang in clear-child voices, singing the glory of God, powered by Hershey’s Kisses.
(I lived in Hershey, PA at one time, The 6 a.m. exercise class smelled of hot chocolate, the afternoons of Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars, the nights of syrup. But that was later, far beyond childhood by the sea.)
I still believe in resurrection after years of insurrection, misdirection & sporadic, sometimes unsteady, affection…
I still believe!
We walked to church, unless it was one of those lingering winters when there was still bits of snow on the ground, I recall my first pair of heels – little bump-buds far unlike the shoes I’d wear later in life. And if the shoes were new & there was snow, I had to fight to wear them (Mom throwing up her arms over her head, (Pazienza!), but New Shoes! even with bobby-sox holding them on – looking a bit patched together, all dressed-up for the Lord. I was shivering, but set for Spring underneath the heavy coat, the ear-flapped hat. The church would be warm in the rafters of the choir box – we were songbirds coaxing in a season of change.
Years moved along, crisp & uncompromising. When I was a child, my Mom prepared huge dinners that started with salad (ensalada), that coursed through soup, buttered Italian bread, pasta & turkey. Sometimes ham appeared on the table, of which I was less fond than a turkey drumstick. Sometimes relatives drove the long distance from up near Philadelphia to the seashore. Relatives were a kind of blessing – they meant crisp dollar bills to buy ice cream with or hoard in tiniest slot of the rolltop desk. They also meant pinched cheeks (Que Bella!) hugs from folks with hearty garlicked breath or smelling of cigarettes, in scratchy woolens & practical footwear. They meant much chattering in Italian, waving of arms & hands in conversation which could take out water glasses on the table or Easter decorations walking to it. They were filled with chesty laughter, family reunion, exclamations, questions, (How old are you now? What grade are you in? Look at how much you’ve grown – this a nuanced, side-eyed comment since I never made it into quite fitting the clothes I was wearing, always pushing my glasses back on my nose with a finger I’ve learned not to use in traffic.)
My Mom had us living at the seashore – a commonplace to us – but a rare & wonderful ride for the others. Ah! Salt Air! Names morphed into exotic pronunciations (Carol drew into Carrrro-lena) as the jokes & comments around the table flowed from language to language.
The adults would make knowing remarks, heads nodding, all gossip & glamor. At some point the oft-repeated “Go out & play!” would herald the talk’s real beginning into the state of the world, the old neighbors, who had died & who still lived – names I heard only on holidays, only in the context of the visits; people I would never meet or know. I would hear the conversations on my way out the door, the voices lowering only to rise again in loud laughter. A jug of wine would be on the table when I got back from my bike ride or climbing the tree in Mrs. Cannon’s yard, or the hideout behind the yew bush clutching a handful of candy to be devoured in sticky bliss.
However, I have never, ever, liked jellybeans, so all mine were roughly pawed out of my basket by my brother, as I watched ferociously to assure he took none of the hollow-core bunnies. And those marshmallow chicks were challenging to nibble all the sugar off of without devouring any of their white fluff.
My hair, done in sausage curls for face-time with God, would straggle & eventually be pulled (with much force) into braids that made my eyes Chinese. Still, I would come home sandy, or with twigs & greenery tangled into it, the rubber bands of control loosening or lost…for all of my good-girl ways, I was a fierce, feral child who favored trotting over walking, who wore a clothesline belt tied tightly around my narrow waist.
I would never change my childhood, although it was fraught with fear & what is now called stress (Catholic School & nuns), My part-time mother – the ocean – never changed, never gave up on me, smiling her waves every time she touched my toes. My bike never wobbled once I was up to speed, pedaling madly. I sailed the bumps of the boardwalk like a mobile Queen, thin legs churning, braids streaming behind. I explored for shells, I stole candybars from the corner store, I saved pennies, cherished new sneakers. devoured books about horses (The Black Stallion!), wrote poems & stories generously plagiarized from these.
I grew up in the sun: I so love it still. I climbed dunes, scratched from sawgrass, sported mosquito bites all over, danced on beaches, suffered unholy disciplines from “holy” women…
I am the me I am because of it all. I did pretty okay, yeh?
So I thank the universe for Ed, for sand, for the kind of bubbling energy stoked by a sugared childhood. I thank my Mother & my family, I thank my distant, divorced-with-a-new-family Dad, for pinching Aunts, for tobacco’d Uncles with Aqua-Velva cheeks, waving crisp dollars – “Here, honey, go buy some ice cream!” I thank my comfort of home-made pasta, for the sweat my mother wiped from her hot-kitchen brows with the dishtowel plugged into her apron.
I am alive: I am Spring: I am holy. I am still a Carol, singing the glory of God!
Such vivid images. Tangible. Each sense is triggered into memory of my own childhood… similar yet not. No beach but a tableful of assorted wrinkled relatives.. pines on the cheek from the nightmare producing uncle ernie.. ham and corn.. both homegrown. Patent leather shoes… orange! Thank you for a tumble down the time machine.