Written on 07/25/20
Today I did yard work by the patio of my rented house. I’m trying to improve it so I can enjoy it more. This means shoveling dirt, hoeing, and raking away a lot of debris, so that I can plant a little lawn and put a hammock on it.
What this is really about is an effort to get at some memories and relive happier times. It is interesting how, in these months of isolation, very little things can mean a great deal. For example, eating a meal off the good china I inherited from my mother. Or re-reading a favorite childhood book. Or thinking of childhood friends. These memories seem more real than the endless days of COVID shelter-in-place. I am only just short of achieving full senior citizen status (I turned 64 this month), but I think I’m getting a taste of what it is like to grow much older and live in memories. I suspect many people much younger than I are having a similar experience.
So why do I crave a hammock? It is rooted in memories of my grandparents’ summer home in Hyannis, Massachusetts, by the water on Cape Cod. When I was a little boy my family would go there each summer. There would be a huge crowd. My Mom and Dad and three siblings, plus Auntie Karyl, Uncle Herbie, their seven children, my grandparents, my great grandmother and a cartload of aunties. It was heaven.
The large back yard sloped down to a canal. Beyond the canal was a marsh. Then the bay. And then, in the distance, the Kennedy compound. We used to joke that the Kennedy’s lived next door. Which they did, except there was a swamp and a Bay in between us. This was in the very early 1960s when John Kennedy was President. So we would sometimes get very excited by the Presidential helicopter flying right over our heads and out to the compound. We’d always wave.
Anyway, right in the middle of that yard, on a metal frame, was a huge hammock, big enough to hold two or three children at a time. We could swing in it. As little boy, this was my idea of happiness. The lawn and the bay and the smell of the sea and swinging in a hammock and feeling loved.
Every morning, my great Grandma Lina would take two or three of the eleven children for a walk to the post office. We’d go past the house that was built to look like a windmill. And eat salt taffy.
After that, Grandma would pack a huge bag of peaches and plums and we’d all head out in the station wagon to Craigville Beach. Not long ago I read on some travel site on the internet that Craigville Beach is one of the must beautiful swimming beaches in the world. I don’t know about that. But I can tell you its beautiful.
I have visited beaches all up and down the California Coast. I’ve eaten oysters at Point Reyes. I’ve sunbathed nude while looking out to the Golden Gate Bridge at Baker Beach. I’ve stared at whales in the distance as I walked along the water in Big Sur. I’ve body surfed in Malibu and I’ve partied on the Venice Boardwalk. I’ve been down to San Diego to hang out on Coronado Island. These are bittersweet memories this summer of COVID, when all beaches seem out of reach.
Nothing compares in my memory to the strip of pebbly sand along the shore at Craigville Beach. For one thing, there was the smell. California is beautiful, but there is nothing like the cold, salty, windy scent of the New England coastline.
Add to that being six years old and eating an ice cream cone while you curl your toes in the sand, and nothing on earth can get closer to heaven.
So this is why, this summer, a six square feet patch of dirt where I can plant some grass and place a hammock on a frame seems like everything.