When I was a kid, my mom’s family owned a cottage in Old Saybrook, a quaint waterfront town. Katharine Hepburn may have resided down the road in a lovely gated estate but all glamour ended there. Our family cottage was a boxy structure plopped down on unimpressive Mohican Road. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom and no air conditioning. Leslie, my cousin Samantha and I shared a bed, lying perpendicular to the correct positioning. It was the only way we could all fit. In the course of the evening, someone always ended up losing their section of the bumpy and tattered chenille bedspread.
The house didn’t have a phone line so my dad had to walk around the corner to the general store and use the payphone out front to check in with the office. I liked going with him because I could always convince him to buy me some penny candy. Sucking on a sugar stick, I’d hold up my hand, halt his pace, look both ways down the empty street and announce it was all clear before we left one side of the sandy roadway for the other.
At the end of our block was the ocean. There were steep steps and a metal railing that led down to Rocky Beach, a collection of pebbles and boulders. When the tide rolled out, the rocks were left with a salty haze and a collection of clinging snails. I used to go down there with Leslie and collect shells. I loved the way it felt to pluck the snails from the rocks. The suction reluctantly giving way to my pulling. I’d tote my overflowing bucket back to the cottage, leave it sitting out in the sun against the side of the house and inevitably be reprimanded for the resulting smell of rotting ocean creeping through the open windows.
A five minute stroll in the other dirction got you to Sandy Beach. I’m sure it had a formal name but this was what we all came to call it. It was there that I made sandcastles and collected seaweed. The kind of seaweed that had bubbles I could pop. Or when I was really bored, I poked washed up jellyfish with a stick. But as soon as the rusty truck rang its bell, I dropped everything and darted for the hot macadam. I always ordered watermelon water ice and I always dripped it all over my bathing suit and hair and hands.
At night, after everyone showered and dressed, we headed over to Johnny Ad’s for some fried clams. With the bellies. Clam strips were for the tourists. With our stomachs full and a pile of greasy crumpled napkins on the table, we relocated over to the miniature golf course at the dock. The seagulls circled in search of discarded ice cream cones. Kids giggled as they aimed for the other side of the windmill. Parents looked on patiently awaiting the setting of the sun. And every so often in the distance, you could hear a fog horn. A long deep moan carried over the ocean on a wave of mist and low lying clouds.
Yesterday I was standing on a street corner waiting for a kickball friend. I watched the world go by as the damp spring air settled in place. And then I heard a fog horn. Which made no sense. A baseball field was behind me and a church was in front of me. South Street was to my right and Washington Square was to my left. I listened intently. Five minutes later, another blow passed through the air. I quickly closed my eyes and absorbed the sound. And all of a sudden, I was standing at the dock in Old Saybrook. I was five years old, wearing red Keds and clutching a putter that came all the way up to my chin. I was young, my biggest concern was making a hole in one, my mom was happy, my dad was healthy and life was grand.