“Yippee!!!” My brother Max shouted, leaping out of the car, even as it had not come to a stop. We were all so glad to make it out to the Bay House. My younger brother Sy was still too young to understand what was happening, but he looked around happily, sensing our excitement. Even though it was only about 30 minutes to our family summer vacation spot, it felt good to get out, stretch my legs, and to feel the fresh sea salt air on my face.
The peeling paint on the deck greeted my bare feet like an old friend. It was cool now in the late morning shade. But, it would grower hotter as the day passed, eventually becoming unbearable for my little toes. We would move inside, maybe to play a game of cards or dice, great Aunt Harriet instructing us younger kids in the games she had played as a child in Sweden. But when the money came out, we would be relegated to the carpet. While our parents drank, smoked and gambled the hot afternoon sun away, we would recreate the world in miniature with Monopoly or Lincoln logs.
Even though every summer solstice was spent here, I think that this was the first summer that I understood that. That I expected the smell of mothballs to greet me as I walked in, and the screen door to bang, clank and clatter as I walked in. This was familiar. Before I knew the word ritual, I was beginning to understand what it meant.
Today though, was different than any summer solstice that I could remember. Today we would be clamming. I heard my uncles – my mother’s brothers – laughing boisterously. I ran to the back deck and they had already begun the celebration, cracking beers and kicking back in their rattiest t-shirts and holey pants. The summer solstice meant this to me. I didn’t really understand the sun’s rotation around the earth, I couldn’t have explained why we had day light savings time, and I couldn’t diagram the moon and tides. But I did know that this was the first day of summer. The sun would be hot, and there would be fun. And today, there was the added excitement of collecting buckets of clams, rolling up jeans, remembering the “old times” when my mom and her brothers were kids and clamming was not reserved for days like this. Or rather, how they remembered then not being like today, the days were more lazy, remember when Grandma… and I can’t believe Dad didn’t find out. Time moved slower, and everyone moved about in the flattering colors of a white-washed Polaroid in high-waisted jeans.
Of course, when I say we were clamming, what I really mean is that my parents and their brothers were clamming. Doing what Grandpa and my great-aunts Harriet and Lillian had learned when they were younger. I, on the other hand, was running in circles in the sand, overturning rocks looking for miniature crabs and making mudpies that my brothers would stomp on and our perfect day would be momentarily ruined until I found the next best thing. But I was caught up in the sense of it – we were on the mission, we were exploring, we were conquering deep abyss underneath the sand. I was tagging along on this adventure, and I was the luckiest kid in the world.
I can’t remember the specifics of clamming, but I can remember that soon it was time to bake. The coals were hot, and as the smoke rose out of the outdoor oven chimney: I could see it dissipate into the high, high blue mass that rested far away from our day. It was one of those moments that required a good spin. So I spun. In circles and circles, arms wide and lungs full of fresh air and burning charcoal. I abandoned myself to gravity and fell to the ground. Dry grass poked my back and bare legs, and even though my stomach rumbled with anticipation, my uncles and parents were telling jokes. I couldn’t understand the words, but I wanted to freeze the moment. I closed my eyes. I would make it last.
Photo courtesy of camknows from flicker
Poet and fiction writer Emma Bean grew up among the sleepy evergreens on a small island in the Puget Sound just outside of Seattle, Washington, where she still frequently visits. After attending NYU for undergrad and living in Brooklyn, Emma traded in her waitress apron for a teacher’s hat and moved to Austin, Texas, where she lives in a cozy house on the east side of town, and bilingually battles with/along/against/for the public school system. She has had been published in Haggard and Halloo, InDigest, and Palooka Literary Journal.