They used to take us to the beach on Sundays.
My grandfather’s rust-colored Oldsmobile packed to overflowing,
a cooler filled with cooked chicken, polpette, and roasted peppers
in the trunk. Glass jars filled with water jostled next to mini-bottles of cola
and brown paper sacks bursting with peaches, plums, and blood-red cherries.
Beach chairs – the kind with woven plastic ribbons of aqua and white
shared space in the trunk with the obligatory umbrella, slightly rusted from years of use.
My sisters and I squished into the couch-like backseat.
Those were the days no-one bothered with seatbelts.
It was about an hour’s drive from Hartford to Rocky Neck.
About halfway there, we’d pass one of those electronic signs
that warned drivers if they were speeding.
My grandfather, his summer Fedora cocked to one side, set it off every time.
I can still hear him laughing.
We’d get to the parking lot early to claim a picnic table under the trees.
Some of my grandparent’s compari would already be there, setting up their own tables.
A sea of oilcloth covered tables was laden with containers wrapped in tinfoil.
The aroma of our ethnic food filled the air as barbeques were fired up.
As we got closer, old friends exchanged the usual greetings.
It was the same every Sunday.
My grandmother pushed us to go say hello.
Our faces would ache after from all the cheek pinching.
Figlia bedda, they’d say.
We just smiled and nodded.
We’d eat lunch, sharing dishes between tables.
After a while, my sisters and I would get bored and
wander off to explore the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
The thick carpet of pine needles in the woods hid the sharp stones
that punished our bare feet and it wasn’t too long before we’d head back.
By the time we’d return, lunch was packed up and the picnic tables were cleaned.
My grandfather in his sleeveless t-shirt, umbrella slung over one shoulder led the way
to the crowded beach where we’d spend the rest of the day.
We had to pass through a tunnel that ran under the railroad tracks.
The air was stagnant there, the stone-lined walls always damp.
Our feet made scratchy sounds as we walked and our laughter echoed,
bouncing off the narrow walkway.
Once through, we had to shield our eyes
as they adjusted to the sunlight reflecting off the water.
We trudged behind grandma until she found the perfect spot.
Grandpa set up the umbrella as we stretched our towels across the hot sand.
We’d spend hours there, listening to conversations in a mix of languages.
Teasing and fun, the same in any tongue.
Crashing waves and salt-filled air somehow made time go faster.
We always left exhausted and yet perfectly refreshed.
It was the perfect summer day, each and every time.
Decades have now passed since we lost Grandma and Grandpa.
My children, now older than I was on those Sunday trips to the beach.
But I remember…
I feel them with me, especially on warm sun-filled days like today.
The call of sandy beaches is strong and I can smell that ocean breeze.
My childhood is calling.
Time to go to the beach.