My grandfather, Gaku, is standing chest deep in the water and has been digging clams with his toes. He drags an inner tub with a bushel basket tucked inside. I want to help and dive down to the bottom to retrieve a clam next to his foot. I am too big to jump off his shoulders anymore. He smiles when I pop up with a big chowder clam for the basket.
He taught me to swim right here when I was five. By holding me on his forearms like a tray, I learned to float face up in the water first. Now I know I can always float if I am in trouble in the water. When I want a break from diving and swimming, I float, look at the sky and feel so quiet and still.
The parents have started to call us out of the water. “Lunch time! Time to get out! Come on, hurry-up”. Everyone is climbing back up the stairs to the bluff. Our parents turn to call again. Now we are all out. Wrapped in towels, fingers crinkled from water, we follow to the pine grove.
FOOD! It looks like Uncle Tom grilled a thousand hot dogs. He places them on rolls and sends us off to add ketchup, mustard and relish. Pickles, too, go on the side of my plate and a heap of Aunt Jean’s potato salad with just a bit of parsley for color she tells me. The first bite of the hot dog skin pops and a bit of juice squirts onto my tongue. My taste buds cheer. Auntie Alma’s oatmeal bread with a big dollop of softened butter completes the main event. Grandmother’s brownies are passed after lunch. I pick the center cut where they are the fudgiest.
Now the parents start to settle in to talk and rest. They lie in hammocks and on the blankets. Some of us kids go in the tower. We climb all three ladders to each sleeping room all the way up to the top tiny one. Out one of the small windows, I can see the canal and the bay beyond. There are some boats going back and forth. From another, I spot the ocean! We sit on the bunks and talk about who can dive the best. We call out the window “how long?” Not yet is the answer.
Back in the grove, we ask again. “In 40 minutes. You must wait an hour before swimming or you can drown.” That is always the same answer! Waiting is so long. We hang by our legs in a good climbing tree. It must be time to go back in the bay. We ask one more time. They say thirty five minutes. All the grown ups talk, laugh and rest. We get restless and bored.
Phil and I go over to the table. We help ourselves to a pickle. He dares me to drink some of the juice from the jar. I do and then dare him. He does, too. We start to take turns. It tastes sour and sweet, like the pickles! We are silly, giggling, pickle juice drinkers! After a bit we stop and ask again, “how long”? Fifteen minutes to go.
Yea! We can go back in the water in 15minutes. “But, no” Uncle John says. “You pickle juice drinkers need to wait another hour. Pickle juice can cause problems for swimmers.”
Our mouths fall open. “Wait? Another whole hour?” Uncle John tells us it is very serious. I get a lump in my throat and my lower lip trembles. I bow my head and feel my chest sink. The grown-ups start to laugh. I don’t know what is so funny. The day has turned a bit sour just like the pickles.
Then, still laughing, they give us the green light to head back to the bay. Phil and I turn to run. “Watch out for the poison ivy” my mother calls as we disappear down the path.
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