East Ends and Beginnings
by Amy Buchner Powers
My husband and I walked Lucy up to the beach today. I held her upright so that she could wiggle her toes in the sand for the first time. She seemed to enjoy it – she smiled that goofy smile of hers. Eric kept adjusting her floppy beach hat to block what little sun was shining. It was an overcast Memorial Day, so the adorable infant sunglasses my mom had bought for her waited in the diaper bag for a clearer day.
I surveyed the short stretch of Amagansett beach in front of me before it disappeared into the fog. My body relaxed against the sweep of salty air and the rumble of the ocean. I was so grateful to be here for another summer, my 33rd – 34th if you count the summer I spent swimming in amniotic fluid instead of theAtlantic. My uncle insists that summer counts. He informs new houseguests that “Amy has been coming out here every summer since before she was born.”
It’s true. And now we can say this about Lucy too. Last summer, she spent the Fourth of July weekend standing in line atRoundSwamp, visiting the Montauk lighthouse, walkingMain StreetinSag Harbor, all from the comfort of my abdomen. Like her mother before her, Lucy has adopted theHamptonsearly. But last summer’s visit didn’t feel quite like an inaugural visit to theEast Endshould. Last summer, despite its promises of beautiful weather and bracing sea air, did not completely satisfy.
That’s because last summer was the first summer that my parents didn’t make it out to my aunt and uncle’s home in Amagansett. Almost a year of radiation, chemo, and other treatments had left my father too weak for the ride out, and, unbeknownst to us, he was only two weeks away from dying of lung cancer. My sister and I called home to New Jerseyfrom the beach house to check in. We sent flowers to celebrate my parents’ July 1st wedding anniversary, an anniversary they often spent out here.
Our family assumed last summer was an anomaly, a setback, a wrong that would be righted this summer when they both would return to the beach, same as always. Until just before my father died, even his doctors gave us the impression he would be with us.
I can’t even remember what my last summer out here with my dad was like. He had a persistent summer cough that I know I nagged him to get checked out. (That cough turned out to be the first sign of his cancer.) But, I don’t recall any other moments from that summer. Why should I? I had no idea that it would be our last with him.
And now, my family gathers together this Memorial Day weekend, one new family member present, my daughter Lucy, and one important member noticeably absent.
Eric lifts Lucy and carries her to the ocean. It is too cold to dip her toes into the spray. That’s a milestone that will have to wait until July. As I watch the two of them, I am reminded that Lucy will have a lifetime of glorious summers out here with her mommy and daddy, grandmother, her grandaunt and granduncle, my cousins, my sister and her husband, and all the friends my aunt and uncle welcome to their home. But she will never know a summer at the beach with her grandpa. Never know the man who happily cleaned shrimp in the sink while lovingly chatting with my mom through the kitchen window – he cooked, she read magazines and novels on the screened-in porch.
Lucy will never have his reassuring arms lift her up above the ocean, over the bowsprit, and safely onto the deck of a sailboat. She won’t get to see him bicker with my uncle like an old married couple as they struggle against the tides and dock the boat or try to navigate home from theBoysHarborfireworks. She won’t see the gleam in my dad’s eye as he recounts the summers when he took the boat toBlock IslandandNantucketwith my uncle. She won’t giggle when my dad dons his wetsuit to go surf with my twenty-year-old cousin or hear about the time my dad and his friends caught a shark. She won’t be able to roll her eyes when he tells her that the only boat he ever owned was named Foxy Lady. He won’t be there to suggest racing our lobsters on the kitchen floor before boiling them like he did when my cousin, my sister and I were little, and she won’t get drawing lessons from him on shading and three-point perspective when she scribbles on the back of a placemat at Gosman’s Dock.
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