April 24, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: My Corner of The Summer Country


For a short while we were a part of it. We sat on a summer beach amongst the colored umbrellas, crazy collection of coolers, striped beach chairs and running, laughing children. Although abbreviated it was a vacation and somehow we made it to our piece of sand there on the edge of the San Diego coast, mid-August in the year 2014. To accomplish even this abridged getaway was not easy. We only had three days. Three days to capture that free, expansive, distant horizon. Three days to relish those sunny, loose, sandy, slightly sticky barefoot, summer paperback, suntan-lotioned, rainbow- sherbet sunsets and late-night laughing vacation feelings.

Complications arose right from the beginning, especially one major annoying hurdle. There was no money. In the past, our family had often rented a beach house with my brother’s family. We have been up and down the coast, south and north, and each summer had its own unique beachy flavor. How lucky we were to have had those summer weeks together. I cherish each one. This year we thought we might manage to pull off at least a three-day stay in a motel but even that proved prohibitive. It was finally decided that our only option was to stay at my brother’s home in San Diego. I deemed us The Freeloaders.

I think the Beleaguered Husband felt somewhat awkward about accepting the hospitality of my brother’s family, for Mike, with his generous nature, used to excel at being the host himself, handing out bills to the cousins, buying champagne, picking up checks, so it must have been humbling to him, to have his style curtailed. He almost didn’t want to go but I lured him with the temptation of southern surfing swells. This would be the only way the families could be together and I thought it important, for our son was leaving in a week to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Amsterdam where he will study abroad for six months.

Our other concern was the risky transfer of the day-to-day operation of Shaka Shack Burgers to our staff, capable and willing as they are, for the burger business is fraught with challenges. Suppose a customer receives the Swiss instead of the cheddar, or a request for a well-done burger takes too long and the hungry customer becomes surly? Will there be enough slaw or onion rings to see them through? Who will remember to turn on the strand of colored lights just as its getting dark? But just like parents letting go of a growing child, we walked away after closing Saturday night, leaving the place to our co-workers and God.

Sunday morning we were good to go. Oh, it took a bit longer to depart Topanga, as more clothes, towels, flip-flops, CDs, swimming suits, (should I bring the gold high heels?) hair do-dads and one stuffed manatee, hit the ever-growing pile of things to take.

To be sure, the collection was perhaps not as large as when we would be gone a whole week but it was still quite a bit to load. The one good thing about being away for but three days is that I wouldn’t be gone from kitty for too long. All his food was lined up along with myriad cat toys and fresh litter. He would be well tended by good neighbor Barbara Allen. Good-bye, kitty.

Then Miranda and I found ourselves in our usual uncomfortable, backseat vacation travel position, wedged in next to a surfboard. But we made the most of it, now and then using the manatee or somebody’s flannel shirt as a pillow. The boys commanded the music from up front arguing over the merits of various hip hop artists, which might have been the most stimulating conversation father and son had enjoyed all summer.

We breezed easily along the freeways headed south for fun, for freedom, a family together on the road like other families on vacation, but us.

And we indeed found some of that vacation flavor. I grabbed it with both greedy hands and teeth. I ate a corn dog, jumped into the sea, suffered vacation hair but didn’t mind, swam in my brother’s pool, read a Vogue magazine on the beach, played a game of Old Maid, had an ice cream cone, watched some episodes of “Shark Week,” walked under the stars wearing a witch hat and carrying a broom in true sea-hag style, bought salt water taffy, had a margarita with my husband at a place along the boardwalk while watching guys surf a manufactured wave. Balance is such a delicate thing.

My nephew, son and daughter, went bowling. My niece took my children shopping. A game of miniature golf was enjoyed. Miranda rode a rollercoaster. Pina coladas were served. Someone got some donuts. I believe there was even a trip to a casino. We played some Martin Denny, some Steely Dan. Happy Birthday was sung. The husband searched for surf. Merits, or the lack thereof, of tattoos were discussed. The sun shone down and now and then the clouds rolled in.

I tried not to think about our precarious future, poor Robin Williams, unrest in Missouri or bills due. I longed to be free from confusing health insurance, ongoing wars, Ebola outbreaks and Jack-in-the-Box commercials. I didn’t want to face back to school. I wanted to hang on to a façade of a vacation, hear my brother call me Gibbo, sprawl on a chaise longue, laugh at something remembered and dream for a moment that I’m young again or rich.

Most of all I didn’t want to stand in an airport on a Sunday afternoon and hug my son good-bye.

We meander home. To draw out the vacation we even indulged a stop at the Gelson’s in Pacific Palisades, an exotic choice rather then our usual local Vons.

­­­I insisted on some lobster bisque. Unfortunately, all of us agreed that the shoppers there seemed discourteous, blatantly blocking the aisles and lingering thoughtlessly at the salad bar. The Beleaguered Husband was disappointed with the deli section. Nonetheless, we arrived home to kitty and, for the last time, share a family dinner together.

I cannot hold back Sunday. It arrives. Perhaps I should be seasoned at good-byes. After all, over the years we have seen Riley off to Astrocamp, England, San Francisco and New Orleans. Maybe I will be calm and evenly dispense sage and wise motherly advice. Not so.

After hurriedly adjusting his suitcases to reduce the weight, my son stands before us, two jackets tied around his waist, laptop and carry-on bag over his shoulders, ready to travel first to Russia, of all places, for a layover then on to the land of the windmills.

We stand there in that crowded airport amongst international travelers sending our son off on a great adventure. He’s smiling, handsome, grown-up, and brave. We hug and as I mumble, “Good-bye boy,” from behind my sunglasses tears flow down my face. We watch as he walks away, until he turns a corner and is gone.

“Don’t worry mother, I’m not going anywhere,” comforts Miranda, as I lean on her just a bit.

From that quick kaleidoscope of a vacation there is one image that stands out. We are on the beach and a lady selling hand-made flower headwreaths passes by. “Hey, I’ll buy one!” Riley calls.

Being enough of a Topangan, he dons the orange and white crown over the topknot ponytail he is sporting at the time. Sitting there on that summer day he looked for all the world like a seaside Puck. I wear the little crown to see him off.

I’m wearing it now.