Back to Where I Became

After months of traveling the world and adding new experiences like jewels to a necklace, I have come back to that one place that still dazzles, no matter how many times I’ve been here before. The one place I am happy not to meet anyone, go anywhere, or do anything; the place in which I can just be. Because this place, in many ways, is me.

Walking up the steps to the beach house

This is the place where my grandfather’s grandmother was born and where my mom grew up, endowing her family with a right to say y’all and to eat grits even though we live in Israel. This is the place where I learned my brother had a soul, when one day at Chuck-E-Cheese he saved up his tickets to buy me a present. This is the place I learned that pouring sand on open wounds doesn’t heal them and that if I want to play with the boys, I can’t cry.

This is the place to where we would migrate as a family every summer and Passover, to hear my grandfather say “Omen” instead of “Amen” and to let the old people marvel at how much we’d grown. The seder was a long table with my great-grandmother perched at the end, sitting atop a family tree she’d created, with her daughters beside her, all of them smiling politely as they wondered when we’d stop rattling on in Hebrew and start the meal. “Didn’t we already do that one,” their eyes seemed to say. I would pour salt in my brothers’ glasses (they started it) but would run to the door with the women to raise the cup for Elijah. They said, laughing, but I knew they believed it, that your future husband would be as tall as the glass you raised. My mother picked me up so I could hold the cup just a little bit taller than I thought I would one day be.

Although the seders at my grandparents were the formality that brought us together, the beach house was where everything happened. I’m sitting in it now, but this time I am alone, because we’ve grown up and into individual, clashing schedules. This is the “new beach house”, which has not been new for years, but the old one is where it all began for us, the one on Twin Oaks Lane. The one with gray wooden beams on stilts, and a tiny kitchen the size of the airplane hallway that miraculously contained everything my little appetite could dream of: string cheese and Pop Tarts and mini applesauces and Lucky Charms. We ate Lucky Charms, that cereal with all the rainbow and heart-shaped marshmallows, until one day we called the 1-800 number and the woman on the other end explained that gelatin was made out of pig feet. Only recently did I realize she’d said pig fat.

And the fluffy blue carpet into which we’d sink our toes and gather on to watch cartoons before the grown-ups woke up. And the bedroom where the term “poopy pancakes” was coined and the bathroom I sat in, crying in front of the mirror, because I didn’t like my new bangs.

My brother fought a relentless battle to keep everything the same, but he lost; the old beach house was abandoned for a new one: spacious and air-conditioned and across the street from the beach. We treated it suspiciously at first, as if it would declare itself a part of the family or demand something it didn’t deserve. The house did none of that, but with its sunlight and sea breeze it forged special connections with us as a whole and with each individually.

Around the same time we moved to the new house, I moved from Tiny Tots tennis camp to the Big Kids, where the winners got bottles of Gatorade. I didn’t like Gatorade but I never won, either. My brother did, though, and I was proud to be his sister and to be able to talk about the Katherines and Chriss in Hebrew, which we knew no one could understand. I ran on the beach, panting behind my Dad, and did yoga with my aunt, wanting in every way to be like her. We became siblings through chicken-fights and sneaking up from behind to push one another into the pool.

Exercise was never complete without chocolate matzah or Haagen Dazs (which we had to buy to replace the fat-free crap in the freezer) or a trillion-calorie meal at Ryan’s, where they had my favorite macaroni and cheese and a build-your-own-sundae stand but we stopped going there after my mom found a band-aid in the food.

In the living room we read and played guitar and I tried to pry my dad away from his sinister black laptop, but as the years went by everyone had a laptop and they’d curl up with it on the sofa, and that is what I am doing now.

One day my older brother, the one who’d led the “Mommy” to “Mom” revolution in our household, decided he was too cool for family vacations. People died and left empty seats at the seder table and then one by one we went into the army, with its rules and regulations and now we’re all big, busy people and I am here alone. In a few days my brother will come and we will reminisce the way we always do, like two little old ladies who have lived too long.

But those moments of memories, and the small words in between, will soon, too, become glossed with nostalgia and intertwined with the rest of our experiences, so we will no longer remember if we are remembering the truth or remembering the remembrance.

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6 thoughts on “Back to Where I Became

  1. I follow your writings religiously. This is exceptional and tops them all! I s’pose because I have lived it, your heritage, too! How lucky we are to have such roots….and to have the sensitive ability to recognize that place…that legacy. This piece is a gift!
    lbs

  2. I love this piece. I can see you as a little girl with pigtails and braces and wonder at the lovely woman you have become. BTW, I really did enjoy the tradition of the seders we shared. They brought back so many memories of Grandpa Miltie’s seders on Moultrie St.

  3. This piece is amazing in every way. I loved it. Thanks for sharing. Do you know how unusual it is as a Jew to have a great great grandfather who was born in the US and in the South. Donna

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