I remember, as if from yesterday, the sound of the ice cream truck, and how it chose our house to stop in front of. We would converge at a run, clutching our dimes in sweaty hands, and then came the agony. To choose; how to choose? Popsicles of the sweet rainbow: root beer, 7-Up, sky blue flavor (what does the sky taste like? Like this). Then all day, playing; long days that seemed to promise no end, no rain. In my memory of summer, there is no rain. Ever.
Besides the neighborhood-wide games of kick the can ("All-y all-y in free!"), there was the family road trip. We always went to the beach for a couple of weeks, all the way from Ohio. This is the paying-the-piper part, the horrible before the happiness part. Because we would be going in one station wagon--a large one, to be sure, first the Comet, then the Country Squire--but there were five of us, and a scotch-plaid cooler for lunch at a wayside picnic table (it never, ever rained), and suitcases and, at least one summer, a large white styrofoam surfboard.
Dad would make little modules for us, one girl on the backseat floor, knees over the hump, pillow for the head, and still damned uncomfortable. One of us in a seat, the other half being piled high with towels and the portable bar--gin and tonics could not be done without, for it would not be summer then, to the grown-ups--that never missed an overnight outing with my parents. The third of us would have a pallet in the way back, smashed between the rest of the suitcases and the side. There was, of course, no air conditioning. And hours to fill, with what? Reading, of course. I always had books I had to read. In return, emphasized my father, we were to give advance warning that he needed to pull over. In the way back, there was no window to stick the head out of so to streak the side of the car with vomit.
We would fight. Of course: what's a summer road trip without the shrieking girls hitting each other, and the angry father threatening to leave us by the side of the highway if we didn't quit it? I never believed he would not do it, either, as he slowed down on the verge. My heart would pound; I could not imagine what would become of me, a lonesome girl standing on the side of I-80, watching the white station wagon accelerate toward small invisibility, but I imagined I would find out.
It would keep us quiet for a few minutes, as threats do, before the heat and carsickness and crampedness and miserable excuses for sisters finally overboiled again. When will we get there?
Well, finally, we would get there. Then came long ferry ride, and the excitement of the sea air, the rolling waves, the gulls swooping down for bits of bread (and bits of fingers) above the boat's wake, was a combustion chamber of magic. Pulling in to the pier at Nantucket, seeing our friends waving, growing larger by the moment, was sheer happiness in a frozen minute.
A lot of living takes place in two weeks at the beach when you're nine. A lot of bicycling, and getting slammed to the sand by the waves, and sunburn, and clam rolls, and bonfires on the beach after dark. The next day, we'd do it all all over again. Sometimes we'd pick blueberries, and then there would be pie.
Is it possible there is a world like this out there still, with shimmering heat rising and painful feet running over the hot parking lot, and no schedules to keep? My memory, intruding into today, says yes, and so it plans trips. Trips in the future that are going to be a lot like the trips of the past. Now that I am the parent, the days are shorter, and it sometimes rains. But I understand, in the deepest part of me, the part about the gin. Now I have inherited the portable bar. And it's coming with me. No matter where I go. I'll buy the limes when we get there.