Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Road Trip

Oh, how I ache for those days. I long for the time of family road trips, my brother and I in the back seat, our parents' presence making itself known only to break up the occasional squabble.

We'd pass the time playing games. Sometimes we played travel sized versions of popular games, like checkers or Connect Four. But usually we played games meant for the road. Spot a license plate from every state. Tap the beat of a song and guess what it is. Find each letter of the alphabet on passing billboards. The rules were developed as we played. Letters could come from road signs but not from bumper stickers. The songs have to be current top 40 hits. The older we got, and the longer the road trip, the more elaborate the rules became.

We'd arrive at our destination, or maybe just an overnight stop along the way. My mom would present us with the individual cereal boxes she brought for our breakfasts, the kind of sugar cereals we would never get at home. We took turns claiming them for ourselves to avoid arguments in the morning. Bill always chose Apple Jacks. I chose Fruit Loops. Or maybe it was the other way around.

We stayed one night at a motel that had a tennis court. It was more grey than green, the paint faded with the years. The net sagged and weeds grew along the sidelines. But for two kids released from the backseat with a few hours of remaining summer sunlight, we could have been at Wimbledon. We had no tennis rackets, so we used what we could find: a stray tennis ball and some paperbacks for paddles. And we invented "book ball."

My brother and I spoke often of book ball, though we never played it again. It was a game known only to us, a memory we shared that is now mine alone. My eyes well with tears as I remember him, just a boy, fair hair shining in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Family Ritual

My dad liked to go to the beach at sunset. By then, the throngs of Southern California beachgoers were heading back to their cars, leaving plenty of good spots to park our car in the lot and ourselves on the sand.

As a young teen, I could spend all day at the beach, and preferred to be there in the heat of day, tanning, body surfing, and watching couples holding hands as they walked the shore, dreaming of the day when I'd be old enough to do the same. But I loved the ocean, and going in the late afternoon with my parents and brother was better than not going at all.

Going to the beach at sunset became a bit of a ritual once my dad got a cell phone. My dad is a doctor, and when he was on call, going places without easy phone access wasn't possible. But the cell phone changed things.

This was no pocket-sized contraption, and was the most unlikely of beach accessories. So while my mom and brother carried the standard blankets and bags of supplies, and I carried my own towel and bag (lest I be caught sharing the same space with my family), my dad would trudge down the sand carrying his phone by its handle, looking more like a car battery or military issue radio than mobile phone. But that device gave us freedom.

My family were not active beachgoers, rarely bringing paddle ball sets or roller blades for the boardwalk. We would walk as close to the water as we could without worry of the incoming tide and spread our blankets on the sand, shoes and bags anchoring the corners. My brother and I would listen to music, watching the waves mingle with the seaweed, birds and people along the shore.

Once the sun started to dip below the horizon, and sweatshirts came on over bathing suits, we'd pack up our belongings, and shake our towels away from the wind. We'd make our way back through the soft sand to the parking lot, avoiding the cigarette butts and bottle caps that marked the transition from sand to sidewalk. After a brief stop at the low retaining wall to brush off our feet as best we could and put on our shoes, we would pile back in the car and head back through the streets of LA toward home.

This week's RemembeRED memoir prompt asked us to write a memory of sand. I have so much more to write about this, the feel of the sand in your bathing suit after returning home, emptying shoes into the tub, the restaurant where we often stopped before coming home. But those will have to wait for another day.