Award Winning Short Story taken from Florida Shorts
"Kid-time" is different from "grown-up time." Whenever I remember something from childhood it comes back as I lived it - in "kid-time." It doesn't matter how many years passed from the time of the memory; if it's a memory from when I was little, the sights and sounds are resurrected along with how I understood the world when I was inside the body of my child-self. It's all preserved in that magical place where those memories live FOREVER YOUNG.
Visits to Pompton Lakes, New Jersey where Aunt Sylvia, Uncle Sol and my cousins Phyllis and Maxine spent summers hold some of my most treasured memories. My mother, father, sister, brother and me would visit from our home in Queens, New York. I don't know how long our visits really were - a week or a few days, perhaps, - but I do know how it felt to be there.
I'm not even sure what years we spent time there except that it seemed like it was the "time of roll-ups." Everything, then, seemed to be rolled up: my mom rolled her hair up in curlers at night and would roll her hair back up into two pompadours right after she unrolled the curlers in the morning; all the dungarees me and my brother, Michael, wore were rolled up at the hem; Grandma rolled up her stockings at her knees and secured them from falling down by gathering them into a little rolled-up ball of nylon; we rolled corn-on-the-cob in butter; apples in jelly and rolled out the dough mommy had rolled up into a ball for apple pie. We rolled up to the hammock between the trees on Aunt Sylvia's lawn. This is when it was in time; this is when our Pompton Lakes vacations made an indelible imprint on my soul.
The drive from our house to this part of New Jersey must have taken several hours, but that was not how I measured time then. We spent every day of the year, except for those vacations, in our own neighborhood. I probably existed in a very small radius of several blocks in each direction most every day. When we did venture out of our own community it was usually just into another borough of New York. My grandparents on my mother's side lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; my father's family lived in Brooklyn; other aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the Bronx or on Long Island or somewhere in Queens - like us. So travel to Pompton Lakes took me somewhere entirely different and really far away. I felt like I was on a long escalator ride that moved me and my family till we got to Aunt Sylvia's. As we moved along, the scenery outside the car window changed. We left New York thru a tunnel and landed in New Jersey, but it wasn't the pretty part. It was dirty and old-looking; steam rising off the streets. Fire hydrants were opened to cool the kids. The water that gushed out and the creamsicles and icicles they bought from the Good Humor Ice-Cream truck were the only relief from the hot summer weather.
When the streets changed from apartment houses and brownstones to streets with houses and trees, I knew we were getting closer. When we saw the Holstein and Guernsey cows grazing and roadside stands selling fruits and vegetables, I knew we were closer still. When Clancy's Watermelon Stand, which read: Pompton Lakes - 9 miles, came into view, I knew that it wouldn't be long before Aunt Sylvia's chocolate cake with mint icing would be melting in my mouth.
We were always greeted with running feet and open arms. They were as happy to see us as we were to see them as we tumbled out of the car into our summer paradise. One by one - we children - were engaged in Aunt Sylvia's "zoom-lens" embrace. First came the big, close hug; then she would set whichever one of us she just embraced at arms length in front of her and remark accordingly. For Michael, the only boy and two years older than me, she would say, "Sarah, he's gotten so tall," then pull him back to her for more kisses and hugs. When it was my turn, it almost always was the same: after the first round of affection she would look at me and remark, "Louie, she looks just like Mama," to which my father would say, "She's my Hungarian beauty." Lynne, the youngest, was still a baby and I knew that she was named for the child with the same name that Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Sol lost a long time ago. I never knew my cousin Lynne, only that she got sick and didn't live long. Something happened to Aunt Sylvia's eyes when she looked at my baby sister that didn't happen when she looked at me or Michael. Just being around Aunt Sylvia felt special; regardless of that look and regardless of whether we were in the country or in the city. She was my favorite aunt. I felt good and loved in her presence and maybe that was because she loved the way my father, her younger brother, did: openly and with a full heart. It was possible to believe the sun shone over your head in the presence of either of them and during those visits I had them both together for days on end. Uncle Sol always went second so there was another round of hugs and kisses for us kids and my cousins were, also, getting an ample dose of love greetings from my mother and father.
Their summerhouse was old and had a screened-in front porch that was the full width of the house. My mother said it was called a bungalow. Me and Phyllis, who was a year younger and sometimes Maxine, when we would let her, would play on the porch with the things Mommy bought us from Woolworth's Five-and-Ten-Cent Store: doll cut-outs, Archie and Veronica comics, bottles full of bubbles, paddle-balls, jacks and pick-up sticks. Uncle Sol, who was Michael's godfather, was teaching my brother to play chess and sometimes all nine of us were doing something with or alongside each other on that porch. That was where we had supper at night when it didn't rain: at the long table set with a red and white checked tablecloth. We always had barbecued skirt steak the first night and after supper Uncle Sol would find long twigs for us to roast marshmallows. We kept the firefly jars just outside the screen door alongside the steps. We greeted the night by catching those flying stars, made our wishes and let them go to find other children who were waiting to wish upon a star.
There were not enough bedrooms or beds in the summerhouse for all of us, so cots filled in. Creature comforts didn't matter much. I never realized that it was not all that comfortable sleeping on stretched-out canvas in a house that would never know air-conditioning. It just felt cozy to me - it fit - the house, the place, the people in it. I slept well.
In the morning - just like lemmings - we went to the water; in this case not to the sea, but to the lake. Mom and Aunt Sylvia stayed behind to clean the breakfast dishes and put the house in order and we five cousins went in Uncle Sol's car with my father for the very short ride to Pompton Lakes. I wore my bathing suit under my clothes so I was ready to go right in. I still had not learned to swim because I remained afraid of being underwater from two earlier near drowning incidents. Instead, I floated, encircled in a tire tube like jelly inside a donut, for as long as we were there. Here, my anxiety dissolved into the water that held me and I felt safe. I felt free. I created a wake by making ripples with my fingers as I paddled around in the water. I imagined how the ripples I sent out moved all the water in the lake.
Decades later - well past the time when Dad was my real-life superman and anything Mom said was true because she said it - I still go to that magical place. I haven't seen my cousins for over twenty-five years and my parents and aunt and uncle are long gone. But I've traveled back many times: whenever the waters in my life become turbulent or when a storm is rising. I can go there anytime I wish - to that oasis of peace and the feeling that everything is okay in the world - as I float in a tube on gentle water. When I do, I arouse the same joyful anticipation of that little girl traveling to a magical, happy place. As I journey through my mind, I release my woes. I'm unfettered and free of worries. Present day hurts are soothed away as I recall the loving embraces that were always in generous supply. All dreams are now possible as I search the night sky for that tiny flying star. I remember that country vacation was not really so far away, after all.
The trip is one I take often, though no longer by car: I go by the way of my "kid memories" of Pompton Lakes and I arrive in "kid-time."
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Copywritten by Estelle Lipp