Second Snow

My mother said we had to get watched by Great Aunt Mary for a few hours. I had a sore throat and I didn’t want to bring a book. So I layed across Great Aunt Mary’s big green TV chair like a blanket, my arms draping over the side.

“Great Aunt Mary,” said my sister, “can I cut your hair?”

“Sure, honey,” she said.  “Go get the scissors.”

I looked up from the rug.

My sister crawled across the top of the couch and slid down the side. She ran into the kitchen and we heard spatulas moving around in the sink drawer.

“I think she’s really gonna cut your hair,” I said.

“It’ll save me a trip,” said Great Aunt Mary.

My sister walked back with big strides holding the scissors high in the air, her fist around the sharp blades. She crawled back up the couch and perched on the arm, cozy next to Great Aunt Mary. My sister started touching Great Aunt Mary’s hair, examining it, seeing where she should cut first.

Our grandmother came out of the bathroom.

“I’m getting a haircut, Gert,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Our grandmother looked at Great Aunt Mary and Great Aunt Mary looked at our grandmother, and they had a shiny laughing look in their eyes, like they were telling a funny story without words.

Hair started to fall onto Great Aunt Mary’s shoulders and on the front of her white sweater.

Our grandmother sat down to watch.

“How does it look, sweetheart?” asked Great Aunt Mary to my sister but looking at our grandmother with laughing eyes.

“It looks beautiful,” said my sister.

More hair dropped from the scissors.

“Are you about finished?” asked our grandmother.

“No,” said my sister. “There’s more.”

“Hey, look!” I said, pointing to the front windows. “It’s snowing again!”

Snow meant the dirt patches on our side hill would be covered when we got home. The sled would be faster. Maybe my sore throat would be gone by then.

“That’s second snow, honey,” said Great Aunt Mary.

I got up from the green chair and went to the front window. I looked up .

“What does second snow do?” I asked.

“It falls from the branches when there’s wind,” she said.

I watched it. She was right. It fell in clumps, the size of white meatballs.

I turned around.

“Can I go outside and look?” I asked Great Aunt Mary.

More hair was falling on her shoulders.

“Sure, honey,” she said. “Just don’t tell your mother.”




Swim Lesson

I jumped out of the car and ran across the driveway, my sandaled feet slipping over the loose gravel.

My Great Aunt Dotsie was taking down her stiff towels from the line. My Uncle Tommy was already counting for hamburgers and hotdogs, pretending not to see my younger sisters. The tiny yard smelled of charcoal and lighter fluid. The picnic table was set with a yellow tablecloth and a stack of paper plates.

“Aunt Dotsie!” I said.

“Carry these in, honey,” she said, handing me the crunchy towels. They smelled of sun and bleach.

Over the tomato plants, we heard Mrs. Halpern’s voice yell to her husband. Her front door slammed.

My Aunt Dotsie rolled her eyes. “Here she comes,” she said. “Run.”

I ran inside with the towels and put them on the couch. When I sat in my Uncle Tommy’s green TV chair, I saw my older cousin and her friends in the front yard, where we weren’t allowed to go. Beyond the line of pines, a car whizzed by with a trail of guitar, heading to the Tarrytown Lakes.

I went out the front door and stood with my cousin and the older girls. One older girl was leaning on a pine tree, looking at me and my rainbow bathing suit.

“Do you know how to swim?” she asked me.

“Sort of,” I said. “Yes.”

“Sort of!”

We all turned toward the voice.

It was Mrs. Halpern with a hotdog in her hand, wearing a visor. She had the head of a tan turtle.

“You don’t know how to swim?” she asked me.

My Aunt Dotsie came up behind her, holding a wiggly pink mold.

“Who wants mold?” she asked us, motioning to me with her head.

“Me!” we all said, and followed her into the front yard, where my Uncle Tommy was handing out hotdogs to my sisters.

I grabbed a paper plate and spooned my Aunt Dotsie’s macaroni salad and pink mold onto my plate.

“Amy doesn’t know how to swim?”

I looked up.

Mrs. Halpern was talking to my mother. They started to discuss something. I watched them for a second but then I ate the macaroni salad. It had little pieces of green pepper. I usually hated green pepper, but not in this cold macaroni salad I didn’t!

My mother came over.

“Amy, why don’t you go to the pool with Mrs. Halpern?” said my mother. “She’s a swimming teacher.”

I looked at Mrs. Halpern. “C’mon, get in my car,” she said. “You have your bathing suit on.”

She started walking toward her house.

I looked at my mother. She nodded. “Grab a towel off the couch and go with Mrs. Halpern,” she said.

Two minutes later, we were in Mrs. Halpern’s loud VW Beetle with hot seats, headed to a pool. I was sort of excited, especially when I saw the pool. It was enormous. It smelled my favorite smell, chlorine, and it was bigger than the Ardsley Middle School pool.

“Go down to the deep end,” said Mrs. Halpern.

I did. I took off my shorts and left them on the floor and saw how deep the pool was. It said “21 Feet” in red squares. I stood in front of the 21 Feet. My toes were touching the red squares, and wondered if the—

Hands were on my back and then I was in the chlorine air. I fell into the deep cave of the 21 Feet.

Under water my arms flailed. I came up breathing pool, frightened.

I turned myself around and looked up at her. I was treading water. She was standing with her arms on her hips. My hair was draped across my face like a curtain.

“See?” said Mrs. Halpern. “Now you know how to swim.”

I don’t remember much more of the lesson. We did do a crawl stroke at the other end of the pool and she put her hands on my head, twisting my head back and forth so I could learn how to breathe properly.

Later, in my Aunt Dotsie’s kitchen, I told everyone what happened. My Aunt Dotsie slapped her hand down on the counter.

“What?!” she said. “She walks around town sayin’ she’s this great swim teacher? She doesn’t have a bird-brain in her head!”

My mother was examining me with a look of distress and draped a crunchy towel around my shoulders.

My sister, Laurette, was tapping my Aunt Dotsie. “Aunt Dotsie, Aunt Dotsie, can I cut your hair on the couch?” she asked.

Aunt Dotsie was still talking about Mrs. Halpern’s bird brain but she stopped, and looked down at my sister. “Sure honey, go get the scissors,” she said. My sister ran for the scissors.

The kitchen cleared.

My Great Aunt Mary stood next to the green fridge. She was holding a Tom Collins, looking at me. She raised her chin in the air, and waited.

I raised mine.

“I see you survived,” she said.

pool water

Next up: ASK, on July 17. Please stop back and read! It makes my day!! 🙂

A Ghost Story

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single ghost in possession of a haunted house must be in want of a scare.

Block Island is the black sheep of the northeast Atlantic.

I grew up going there two weeks every summer with family and cousins. Leaving it after the two weeks gave my heart a freefall. I would cry alone in a ferry bathroom stall, but the emotion made me realize the island was my true home.

What made it home: the house we rented and the terrain.

During summers, the island coated me. It belonged on my skin and I kept it there. We stayed for those two weeks down a long dirt road that the island’s official map made dotted. I walked barefoot down that road, its soft dirt covering the nameless vegetation along where tires spat and my feet, sometimes my legs. We would climb down the Mohegan Bluffs and its dark clay dried between my toes, and I pretended all this island dirt got into my bloodstream, making me its child.

On days of all-sun I rolled down the warm dunes at State Beach and the black flecks of hot sand covered me with metallic heat. I swam underwater in the ocean’s shallow pockets looking for lobster and fished with my father on the Viking, collecting blues from the deep and eating them later from the grill with tomato slices and onion.
Because of these summers, I like to believe I’m a part of the island’s closed cycle of history.

The house we rent and love is ours. We don’t pay the bills or the mortgage and we’ll never have to replace the roof but we’ve been renting this old house for so long that we feel it knows us, and we sure know it. When I close the door each time we leave until another year, I always say “Bye Becks,” with a giant lump in my throat and heart, though I keep it together as an adult on the ferry, until I get home and do the laundry.

The biggest part of the house’s mystique has to do with its haunted stories.

There are several self-published books written by an islander who tells them well. In all honesty, there was a strong creep factor about this old house. If you happened to be alone, you’d wait outside, reading a book, waiting until somebody else got back. Most of the book’s stories, however, happened at night, as did ours.
Once, my cousin and I were up late talking and laughing in our back bedroom together. Our bedroom was down a long hallway with a wood floor held together by old square nail heads. We were probably around 13, 14. Everyone else had gone to bed and the house was quiet, lights were out.

We were on a hot streak with the laughter – don’t ask me what was so funny, I have no idea. But it turned quickly un-funny when we heard bare feet marching down the hallway.

Heel, heel, heel, heel, heel, heel.

It was fast. We knew it was my mother, but I was surprised she was so angry.

We jumped into bed and held the covers up to our noses.

The feet stopped in front of our door.

The door never opened.

PS After this happened, my cousin and I waited for the door to open. When nothing happened, we looked at each other, then turned out the light and went to bed. The next day, we asked the adults in the house if they had walked down the hall and stopped in front of our door. They didn’t know what we were talking about.
Another true story, current day: Various members of my family wake up in the middle of the night and hear footsteps walking in the attic. This past visit, something crashed in the attic in the middle of the night. When we looked to see what had fallen, nothing was out of place.

Southeast Lighthouse-Block Island RI


There is a sneak in me left over from childhood.

I was the one who quietly picked up the phone to listen in. I found a way to walk up our old wooden steps without making them squeak. I listened to adults talk at parties and heard things I shouldn’t have. I crawled out my bedroom window and sat on the roof, in secret.

Somewhere along the line, it must have occurred to me that rules had give. They had weak spots, places to push. Except for church. Church had no give, and neither did napkin on lap, kindness or sisterly love.

But the world really opened up when I realized that, for some members of my extended family, rule breaking was a given. A delight! Great Aunt Mary would sigh through her lips as if she was turning us down, but she never did.

“Go ahead,” she would say, “you can shake the soda cans/use the all sheets in the linen closet/hold onto the wheel while I drive.”

Just don’t tell your mother or climb trees, we heard.

She came to live with us and mopped the kitchen floor every night. When our parents joined a local theater group, we waved goodbye at the front door and she made sure we didn’t escape the house. She slept in tight rollers that pressed against her head, and she liked to sleep in on Saturdays.

“Are you awake?” I would whisper in her ear.

“Count to 200,” she would whisper back from her pillow.

But this Saturday was my sister’s First Communion, and since our father was stirring the hollandaise and our mother was pulling down serving dishes and finding white tights and picking up after the dog, they needed Great Aunt Mary to drive to the store to get the sheet cake for the Communion Party. We had to be at church in an hour. People were coming. Continue reading