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Memories

My family has become archeologists in our own home. After 12 years of collecting artwork from the kids’ classes in school, saving report cards and filing away binders from earlier grades, we are sifting through all that material, jettisoning or recycling what we don’t need.

Some of the finds are so remarkable that they stop us in our sorting tracks. My high school daughter isn’t much of a morning person. She often prefers short sounds or gestures in the car on the way to school, rather than actual conversations that might require her to form words.

As we were going through a pile of material, we found a note from her nursery school teacher. She described a charming little girl who often takes a while to get going each morning. That description is so apt today that we realized how much of people’s patterns and personalities form early in life.

Then, sorting further, we found papers from her spectacular first-grade teacher. A young woman with a soft voice and a determined style, her teacher brought out the best in our daughter, even early in the morning.

Our daughter kept a diary in that class, in which she shared stories about the family’s weekend activities. Clearly, her brother was jealous of that writing, as we also found a diary from him in which he thanks her for creating a similar book for him to record his experiences. He shared his thoughts from the weekend, and the rest of the family readily wrote back to him.

His sister also kept handwritten notes from her first-grade teacher. The letters are all clear and distinct, and offer a positive and supportive tone. Her teacher wrote to her, without talking down to her. What a wonderful role model. This teacher, through form and content, offered a ray of sunshine to our daughter even then, which was probably why we kept the papers.

These notes today take on a different meaning for us, as the teacher succumbed to cancer at a young age just a few years after our daughter had the privilege of being in her class. Our daughter was recently in a high school English class in which her first-grade teacher’s husband served as a part-time instructor. She shared some of these notes with him. He was delighted to take them home to his daughter, who was a toddler when
her mother died. His daughter has particularly appreciated seeing her mother’s handwriting and feeling an indirect connection to the encouraging words she offered.

We have also sorted through dozens — OK, hundreds — of pictures that have transported us to earlier memories. We have a photo of our 1-year old son standing on the warning track at the old Yankee Stadium, bunched up in a winter coat on a December day.

We also found numerous pictures of our son on baseball fields of his own, surrounded by younger versions of teammates who have stuck with him through the years, as well as of friends who have gone their separate ways — or have pursued other sports.

Amid all the trophies from sports teams, we discovered certificates indicating that one or both of our children had been successful lunch helpers.

We have unearthed old VHS tapes of movies we watched numerous times as a family, including a few Disney classics and a surprisingly amusing Barbie version of “The Princess and the Pauper.”

In addition to sending us down memory lane, sorting through all the accumulated clutter has made the house seem so much larger, giving us room to add modern memories and memorabilia to our collection.

When I think of my dad, I am reminded almost immediately of his loving nature and his playfulness. Now many dads I have met behave lovingly toward their families, so that is not what set mine apart. It was the other half of my description: His instant readiness to play and his aptitude for making up games on the spot.

My dad was an ambitious businessman, and he worked long hours every week. But Sundays were his day to relax and his unconstrained self would emerge. No wonder Sundays were my favorite day. He would begin the morning by getting up somewhere before 6 a.m., and start rustling around in the kitchen. The son of a farmer, he got up early all his childhood, and just because he moved to the city in his teens he wasn’t about to change the diurnal cycle that had been hardwired into him.

He was one of nine children and referred to himself when he was growing up as “Middle Child.” To hear his siblings tell of him, he was the one who routinely organized the pack into daily games in between their farm and school chores. Isolated on a large farm from other children and certainly without any municipal playgrounds in their lives, they created their own fun. That skill served him well not only for us, his children, but for the entire neighborhood. He was the undisputed Pied Piper wherever we were on any given Sunday.

Sundays belonged to my mother. My dad made sure of that. He would concoct a huge breakfast that was never the same from one week to the next. Into a dozen eggs, he would toss whatever leftovers he could find from the fridge, cook the mixture slowly with generous amounts of onions and other veggies and “mystery spices” and present the masterpiece to the salivating family gathered around the kitchen table. I always tried to sleep in on Sundays, but the marvelous smells that filled the apartment unfailingly coaxed me out of bed. Only my mother was impervious and slept through the ruckus of our trying to identify the ingredients as we ate.

My dad would then take us out to the park — Central Park that is — and we would roam over hills and dells, always yodeling in the many tunnels along the pathways. The echoes were hugely satisfying. He would set a rock on top of a boulder, give us each five small stones, and ask us to knock the rock off the boulder from 10 paces.

We’d have a vague destination within the park each Sunday, anywhere from the carousel to the rowboat lake, to Shakespeare Garden to Sheep Meadow with its multitude of baseball games in progress. He was good at pitching horseshoes, and as we strolled by the quoits section the men would offer him a turn. If we had thought to bring a basketball, we might shoot some baskets on the courts.

When the weather was bad, we would wander through the Metropolitan Museum.

Wherever we went, regulars in the park usually recognized us because my younger sister had Down syndrome, a condition that was almost never seen in public places. We stood out, I guess, and my sister, who loved to watch the baseball games and came to know some of the adult players by name, would cheer loudly with each solid hit.

As the day wore on, my dad would buy a box of Cracker Jacks from a park vendor and we would share the contents. By the end of the afternoon, we would head to a predetermined grove of trees where my mother would be waiting on a blanket with supper. I remember how happy my parents were to see each other — you would have thought they had been separated for weeks. Maybe it was just the prospect of some homemade dinner that sealed the day with joy for all of us.

Cedar Beach file photo

By Madeleine Emilia Borg

I have a very hard time saying goodbye. It becomes particularly apparent when something that has been there your whole life as a constant reminder that things are as they should be, suddenly one day is snatched away from you. Somewhere I have known that it can’t always go on this way. That this will also have to come to an end. Still, once it occurs, it is no less devastating.

It’s truly amazing to have had a place to return during the summertime. Loving arms that have welcomed me and a bed to sleep in, its worn lace spread getting thrown off every single night because of the nearly unbearable heat. And as soon as I had the light on, all the bugs ended up in the book I was reading. Almost always that book was borrowed from the Port Jefferson Free Library. Despite the various little critters, I would never trade those nights and days for anything in the world.

The Beach House, hidden away in Miller Place, Long Island and the people I’ve shared my experiences with there own a piece of my heart. With its typical northeastern faded gray shingles, the black roof one can crawl onto out of almost every room upstairs and the dreamy view all the way to Connecticut, where the fire works during Fourth of July light up the horizon as if it is burning. And for the first time in my life I won’t be able to visit it again. Because sometimes even old houses at New York’s end that have served as second homes must be emptied of all memories and sold to another family who can harvest the same pleasures and joys from it as much as its past cherishing owners.

The winding gravel path up from the road where the trash cabinet stands, its carved out blue whales on both doors and the sign in the tree with the black painted letters “Henry’s Place”, indicating that a home lurks beyond all the overgrown lush greenery.

The barefoot schlepp from the splintery board walk bridge up the steep slope, when the soles of our feet are numb after stepping around on tiny rocks laid scattered all over the dazzling white beach, but which we’ve always called pebbles and therefore they feel somewhat kinder than ordinary stone.

The outdoor shower that stills smells so much of cedar wood and security although it is over 23 years old. When I let the tepid water sprinkle down over my sun flushed shoulders it doesn’t hurt even a bit.

Below the hill where the magnificent deer family usually observes us through the screen window in the kitchen as we prepare for dinner making a salad. Slicing satiny tomatoes, chopping onions and carving out avocados that we’ve carefully selected at Jimmy’s down the road. He always sneaks butterscotch and sour watermelon lollipops into the grocery bags.

Having trouble falling asleep and the feeling of time standing completely still, while impatiently awaiting the next morning when I’ll hear the much anticipated sound of car doors opening and the rest of my favorite people. Uncles and aunts and cousins I call siblings will come up the driveway with smiles bigger than their faces. We’ll be racing down the stairs, the aching stir pounding under my rib cage.

Freshly caught seven-dollar lobsters from the little fish store that Nana brings in brown paper bags, the ones we dip into melted butter for our own version of a Swedish crayfish party. My cousins and I squeal from the carpet stairs in enchantment mingled with terror as we sit and watch how she puts them in the big black boiling pot, one by one. Afterwards my brother throws the remains to the seagulls after we gingerly go down to the water and rinse off. He really should get into baseball, someone says and we stop and grill marshmallows until we need to find our way back with a flashlight.

When my younger cousin and I as eight- and 10-year-olds invade our grandparent’s closets, smear on all the makeup we can find, attach the loose fitting garments with sparkly hair clips and wobble down the long stairs in way too high heels, feeling them slightly chafe but it doesn’t really matter because we hear everyone clapping and cheering us on from below.

Thirty-one years ago, my family purchased a beach home in Miller Place. It became a haven and gathering place for three generations of families and friends. It was a place of endless parties, a place for recuperation and healing. Located on four acres of land plus beachfront property, with unobstructed views of the Long Island Sound, it was truly a place of sanctuary back in the day, when Miller Place was full of sod fields, not strip malls and homes … but people get old, families and friends drift apart and life takes us all on different paths. Very sad to have given it up … but sometimes letting go breathes new life into all. My 21-year-old niece, Madeleine, who grew up in Sweden, spent the last 18 summers at the beach house with us. These are her memories. — Paul Singman

Early, calm crossword puzzle breakfasts with Poppy on the porch when the air is still clean and pure, only a few motor boat’s distant soothing hum. I make a sesame bagel with salmon and cream cheese, he opts for a bowl of cereal. And so we sit and listen to exactly nothing and just enjoy each other’s presence.

The few bright blue hydrangea bushes that survived the fire we never mention, where I pass the house next door and the contrasting reality looming between the bamboo shoots. Nana planted new ones adjacent to the facade later on, which quickly morphed into something jungle-like. It just grows bigger every year.

The attic holding Mom’s poufy wedding dress, a sandbox shaped like a giant turtle, my great uncle’s trumpet played in grand symphony orchestras, black and white photographs neatly tucked into worn heavy albums with burgundy spines and travel diaries from the sixties.

The huge and frayed weather polished log which fits my little brother and I perfectly in our daily occupations of playing shop and bakery, or reclining on each of its curved sides while trying not to spill our Animal Crackers and cheese sticks in the sand. Nana comes over sometimes to buy a lemon meringue pie and some rolls, or she’s looking for a new gown she can wear to the imaginary ball that very evening. We always have something just right to offer.

During an unusually dramatic and moist storm, the outdoor furniture with blue and white striped cushions blowing off along the corner of the house, lightning strikes down the chimney and dances for a few seconds over the glossy parquet living room floor.

Lazy evenings after a shower when my mother wraps me in a fluffy bathrobe and I clamber up on Nana’s unusually high raised bed. Stacked over bricks overlooking the complete paradise we find ourselves in, we start reading in the mellow comfort of each other’s camaraderie. My best friend. Earlier I left a note that ceremoniously invited her to this particular activity and would like it to continue forever.

The squirrel that gets in through a broken screen at the height of a pine tree, running across the fireplace, leaving adorable sooty paw prints in the sink and in the light purple bathtub which always tends to be filled with foam of lavender and violets, fittingly enough.

The dusty ceiling fan I stand straight beneath, closing my eyes just to breathe in the familiar salt breeze and coconut scent of Coppertone sunscreen which we continue to use even though all of us have grown up, even the smallest ones.

The back den with its sugary wood scent and photo collage of everyone of us from all times and places spread across the entire wall, Every time I look I see something new.

Short adventure walks that turn into running after we discover a vacant diving dock and quickly swim over only to throw oursleves in and scramble back up for hours at a time.

The wine bottle we manage to steal from the liquor cabinet and share with some we’d met the other day at McNulty’s ice cream parlor. Now sitting out among the dunes at the rotunda where we keep the umbrellas and swimming noodles I talk fervently to everyone except the person who’s mouth I’d like to graze with my own but I never dare to.

The bursting cotton candy sky, never ceasing to stun its audience, soon shifting into thick endless navy sprinkled with glowing dots. I look up at them from a swing in the sprawling storybook tree protecting a spot of the otherwise yellowed, prickly lawn. Crickets whose melodies slowly fill the night among the fireflies that we vainly try to capture in glass jars with holes in them.

The grand, annual birthday party in the middle of July that seems to get more stifling the older I get. Guests pouring in from all over the country, people I barely know but like already kiss both my cheeks and take my hand in theirs. Roaring laughter and animated gestures in a flurry of pastel cake frosting and white linen and without much blood involved, we’re still the world’s biggest family and I love each and every one of them.

And finally. The initial, delicious chills finding their way along my spine as I try not to slip getting into that remarkable ocean. All kinds of colors, textures and creatures emerge from underneath as quickly as they vanish and I’ll always be a mermaid here. Inching further in, I hear someone count to three and suddenly I’m completely underneath even though I’d demonstratively spun my hair up in a bun earlier to catch as many freckles as possible. I guess this is what heaven feels like. As I loosen the elastic from my head, I let myself float up slowly, opening my eyes to the glittering murky light and greeting a sun burning my forehead in a way that is only divine.

Goodbye beautiful house, you will be dearly missed.