23 August, 2009
life, the Fire Island way
I know, I know, it's an awful lot of photos, but it was SO BEAUTIFUL in so many different ways that only this motley assortment can represent to me our 24 hours on New York's most beautiful island. And no, I'm not prejudiced, I'm merely speaking from my vast experience of... OK, just this one New York island, but trust me, it's nirvana. Or maybe that's only if you visit Alyssa there.
Of course I must digress and confess that the day since our departure has been, well, all too eventful. Poor Avery came home from our morning excursion on the beach saying, "I'm just not feeling my best," and I could hear its echo from summers past. Not one summer passes without her Twenty-Four Hours of Doom, characterized by a reasonless, low or high, summer fever. Thank goodness the Fates chose our departure day rather than our arrival day for her short-lived malaise. So she has spent the day huddled up in the car or on her bed, suffering bravely. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We hopped on the ferry at Bay Shore on a hot, hazy Friday. After buying our tickets, we succumbed to fried mozzarella and Cajun fries at Nicky's Clam Bar, and so should you! The fry guy behind the counter said, "I'll trade you all that stuff for that cake you got there in your bag," gesturing to my lemon bars, a present for Alyssa and family. "I can't do that, but I'll pay you," I said, and then when he gave us our food, I cut off a brownie-sized piece of lemon bar and gave it to him. "You didn't need to do that! I was just joking!" he blustered in embarrassment, so I waved and went on to eat our fried treats. After them, however, I craved a piece of peppermint gum, so back I went to Nicky's, and bought my gum. "You're the lady... that was the BEST THING I ever ate!" he exploded. "I'll buy you that gum! You sure didn't need to do that! You have the best weekend!"
On the ferry we were surrounded by people much younger, much more tanned, much more carefree than we, but no one else had Avery, and no one else was going to stay with Alyssa, so too bad for them! No sunblock, of course, which turned out to be the watchword of the day and John and I emerged that evening quite hot-faced. Avery, for some reason, is never sunburned. Ever. Everyone, including the Mad Dog Leila, met us at the ferry, and we schlepped our scant belongings home, remembering the small, dear, grassy sidewalks, no cars! Bicycles everywhere, ridden by the most eclectic group of people you can imagine: fake William F. Buckley, Jrs., fake Henry Louise Gates, Jrs., real hippies, gay couples of both sexes walking every sort of dog under the sun, children running each other off the path, old people carrying small string bags of provisions from the market. To their house, white walls, windows everywhere, easy furniture, an open kitchen, and a Jacuzzi!
I had brought macaroni and cheese and sausages for lunch, so we immediately tucked in. Annabelle, Avery's friend since they were 2 1/2, seemed momentarily shy with us, but I soon realized it was the very same brand of teenage (almost) reserve and wait-and-see that Avery and her London friends show. They share a quiet enjoyment in each other's company, a relationship they both describe as "sort of cousins." Cousins in the non-volitional mode of friendship: their mothers are best friends/would-be sisters, so they are cousins! Plus, happily, they genuinely like each other, in the random, general way people do when thrown together for fun, twice a year. Gone is the Elliot version of friendship, which with John manifests itself in being upside down most of the time, alternately cracking up and threatening to cry! We all remembered the duel of all duels, which involved Elliot being wrapped by John in duct tape and... ended in the t-shirt Elliot was wearing having to be CUT OFF with scissors. Mental note: never duct tape a child, even dressed.
We trooped down to the beach and installed ourselves with every convenience: all the beach chairs Steve had valiantly carried against the massive winds ("no umbrellas TODAY!" Elliot announced with little-boy relish at crazy weather), shovels to dig with, Leila and her leash, snacks and water and towels. John immediately disregarded the notices against swimming and took both girls with him. I panicked and wet-blanketed until finally John said definitively, "Don't be a killjoy," which put the fear of God in me: I never want to be a killjoy! So I went swimming too. The intensely salty water, putting what you get in an oyster shell to shame! The sheer fear of being overwhelmed by a wave, remembering to duck if you just wanted to wait it our rather than RIDE it out! The floating, magical feeling of buoyancy and wildness. I take so few risks in my life these days that the feeling I might be swept away in clear view of my husband and child was quite exhilarating!
A long walk the length of the beach, watching a kiteglider perform amazing feats. So I decided to perform my own amazing feats, joining the girls in cartwheels. I should have stopped there, but no, Annabelle and Avery, with vestigial memories of their childhood with me in the park in New York, chanted, "Front walkover, front walkover!" Well, the first one landed me on my bum, the second one scarcely better and the third: injured some useful tendon in the bottom of my foot! Limping still, how embarrassing.
We all took turns in the addictive outdoor shower! The next feature of Red Gate Farm, John promises. Where to put it, next summer? There is something about showering under the real live sky that is quite poetic and wonderful, rising far above mere shampoo and conditioner. Gorgeous. Then to town, Alyssa, John and me on foot, the girls and Elliot taking an independent route on their bikes. "I'm not sure I remember how to do this!" Avery quavered, wavering slightly on her borrowed bike. "Sure you can," John said nonchalantly, "it's like... riding a bike."
Slight delay (in which I had them all kidnapped, Alyssa saying briskly to me, "There are no kidnappers on Fire Island,") during which it transpired Elliot had fallen off his bike. Annabelle came running up to us, panting out the story. "He fell in front of the market, and a nice lady came out and asked if she could help, and we introduced ourselves, and she asked Avery if she was staying here, and Avery said no, just a night before she went back to London, and then the lady said, 'Is your mother Kristen? Tell her I said hi, from the PS 234 Book Fair.'"
Doesn't that take the cake? Of course she is an old friend who worked with me on the Book Fair and then took over the chairship when we moved. Just proves my long-held belief in not misbehaving because if you do, the lady at the market giving a band-aid to your friend's son will see you doing it. Or close enough.
Crisis averted, we cruised the town of Seaview, buying plenty of candy, scoping out all the sweatshirts we'd buy if needed another sweatshirt even SLIGHTLY more than we need a hole in the head. Gazing at all the bars, the "LIVE MUSIC TO-NITE" signs, the testosterone-poisoned young men and smoking young ladies, tossing their hair... "Did you ever have a bar summer?" I asked Alyssa, and we realized that we as adults missed that particular joy, having been mated up with our to-be husbands very, very young. And never looked back. Well, almost never.
Home in a leisurely fashion, trying to read the clouds as they scudded over the dunes, the town, the ocean. Would it rain? Would Hurricane Bill show his face? The girls jumped into the hot tub, albeit only warm, and Elliot raced around with the hose, threatening them. The dog barked wildly, we poured cocktails and ate my new favorite treat, Haddon House Tomolives, although where I'll ever find them again, I don't know: they're pickled tiny tomatoes! We feasted on barbecued salami, cut in nice thick slices, hot and spicy, and then chicken and flank steak fajitas with grilled peppers and onions: HEAVEN! A brief attempt to eat outside, and then when we realized our children were donning sweaters in the blazing heat to avoid the mosquitoes! we moved inside.
The culinary revelation of the weekend?
Alyssa's Parmesan Corn
(2 ears per person, this recipe serves 4 easily)
8 ears sweetcorn, broken in half
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
pinch sea salt
Drop the corn in boiling water and cook for 4 minutes, then drain and toss with the cheese, butter and salt. Perfection, gluttony and indulgence.
What does it take to be a truly talented hostess? I can describe Alyssa. She makes it seem as if her greatest joy would be something she could do for you, and it would be effortless. Towels, food, cold drinks, books you didn't even know you wanted to read, all appear in your hands, while she dispenses her typical New Yorker wisdom on all current events, food fads, upcoming weather, finding time to tell you what already knew: namely how remarkable, nay UNIQUE your child is, outstripping even her wildest expectations as to how remarkable your child would turn out. When she went off to the market on an emergency bike ride for a tomato, she called to Avery, "Want to come?" and my heart simply melted with joy at hearing their non-stop chatter as they rode away. Not everyone can treat a child with such unselfconscious warmth. It's all done with complete relaxation and love and ease. A true talent. It's why I love her.
We stayed up to look at pictures of mutual friends grown far too tall, on Alyssa's computer, the girls and Elliot crowing in disbelief. "THAT'S DUNCAN??" They all tucked into Alyssa's peanut butter brownies and ice cream and I acknowledged how sunburned I had got, and John succumbed to sleep. Would you believe that our stay put Alyssa on the couch for the night and she didn't MIND? That's friendship. The girls shared a room, cozy like old-days sleepovers. To think that when she was three years old, Avery was happily spending half her weekend nights in Annabelle's bedroom, while Annabelle was just as comfortable in Avery's house. Just dear, dear memories.
In the morning, I was the last up but Annabelle, and John reported his early-morning hanging-out with Alyssa. Luckily I am a very secure person or else I'd be massively jealous at his paeans of praise... but come to think of it, it's only a matter of who praises her the most, him or me! How lovely to be with her. Out to the beach which we could in fact HEAR far before we could SEE it. The waves much, much higher than Friday, prohibitively so in fact, I cannot imagine swimming. But I got some wonderful sandy photographs, although my memory of this particularly glamorous shot of Avery is a bit spoiled by her telling me now, "I was starting to feel odd then..." The storm was coming in from the west, oddly, since we were expecting the hurricane from the East.
A real New York bagel brunch complete with smoked salmon, scallion cream cheese, tomatoes, red onions, a melon, you name it. Cucumber vinegar salad, all the New York favorites. Then the haul back to the ferry... and reluctant goodbyes all around. Elliot bravely said goodbye to all his family and prepared to board the ferry with us: caught just in time! How I hate the watchword of this and all summers: "Goodbye!" I wondered idly what it would be like to have a life where everyone I loved was in one place, where no one ever moved away, where I never in fact moved away... how impossible it is to imagine, when so much of our emotional energy is spent greeting, appreciating, saying goodbye, reacclimating, adjusting, anticipating. I bet if I didn't do all that, I could really accomplish something. But it's my life.
To Bay Shore and the Italian Pork Store! I'm not kidding, it's Frank and Maria's pride and joy, and I acquired the most lovely pork ribs and pork mince there, in advance of our dinner with Jill and Joel (more goodbyes). If you're in Bay Shore, go there. Mostly, it's the name that made me happy. Tell it like it is!
Home in a torrential rainstorm, via the magical Throg's Neck Bridge with its far-away views of our much-missed Manhattan, with Avery dozing uncomfortably most of the way, a slight fever making her miserable. We were SO happy to pull up in the driveway at Red Gate Farm, and... get ready for the next dinner crowd! But that's another story. Thank you, Alyssa and family, for a sublime, unforgettable 24 hours. We'll miss you, as always.