The same week I got a disastrous haircut – almost a pixie cut with ridiculously short bangs – I was scheduled for a trip to my home state of Rhode Island for a reunion with my siblings. The irony wasn’t lost on me – my 65 year old self with hair shorn like my ten year old self (and I hated it then too), setting off to revisit the joys of childhood.
The first three of us were born between 1949 and 1953, and I was third after a sister and a brother. That got me off the hook in many ways, and allowed me to be a non-conformist throughout childhood and adolescence. The fourth sibling, our adored baby brother, came along in 1961. We are scattered like wind-blown seeds now, and our annual gathering is meant to reforge our bond. But we are opinionated, judgmental people who think we know best and most on every subject from brewing tea to family history. I steel myself each year for the ghosts of childhood our reunion stirs up -the prodding of old grievances, the reminders of each other’s weaknesses, the insistence on remaining in prescribed roles. But there are also memories of silly songs we made up on long car trips, our mother’s delicious oatmeal cookies and bland dinner casseroles, the stories our parents told us, and the things we got away with.
This year, being in Rhode Island, we had to visit second beach in Newport, where we once stood on our dad’s shoulders and jumped into the salty brine, and bodysurfed in the waves from the time we were small. We stopped on the way back to our rental house to lunch on clam cakes and New England clam chowder. Both failed to meet the expectations our memories stirred up. Same with our trip to the Newport Creamery the next day, for Awful Awfuls (a milkshake that was overly sweet) and Butter Brickle ice cream (freezer burned). We also bought some coffee milk, a staple of our childhood, and Dell’s frozen lemonade, both of which are now too sweet.
It’s true you can’t go home again to the sweet treats of childhood, but you can smell the salty sea air, feel the breeze, listen to the accents of the locals we used to live among, and tolerate, even love, each other for a few days during yet another year on earth.
Lee Stevens is from Hendersonville, NC