|Fire Island Journey
By Laura Perno
Fire Islandused to have dunes. BIG DUNES. Before we owned a boat, Dad would rent a row boat and take Mom, my three younger brothers and me across theGreat South BaytoFire Island. There were very few people who went where we went. Most Long Islanders went to the beach via the bridges at Smith’s Point or Jones’ Beach. Our beach was private, clean and peaceful where the water was clear and cold. The sand was silky and glittered in the sun; it left sparkles like fairy dust on your fingers and toes.
Trips toFire Islandwere long journeys; they took the entire day. On beach days, I woke to the sound of crackling ice cubes being dumped into the cooler. Then I smelled the sautéing onions and garlic. I jumped out of bed and called downstairs.
“Hey! Are we going to the beach?”
Mom yelled up. “Yep, come help me roll meatballs.”
I threw on my bathing suit, a t-shirt and a pair of sandals and put my hair in a ponytail. Then, I woke my brothers.
“C’mon, you guys, get up! We’re going to the beach! You’re burning daylight!” I shook each of them out of their beds. My youngest brother, Joe, was up in a flash. John and T.J. turned over and put the covers over their heads.
“Can’t we go later?” croaked John.
“Yeah, Mom and Dad won’t be ready for another hour,” T.J. said lazily.
This time Dad called, “John! T.J.! Get up and help!”
“Ugh, okay,” they both grunted.
John and T.J. helped make salami sandwiches and packed soda, chips and fruit in the cooler. Joe put the towels in Mom’s straw bag. Mom and I finished making the sauce and meatballs while Dad loaded up the car.
Dad always rented a boat from Captain Andy’s marina. We were never allowed to go inside with Dad when he paid for the boat; we had to wait on the scorching dock like drying fish. I actually don’t know if there even was a real Captain Andy. I never saw him. But I do know he made the best French fries onLong Island. Sometimes, Dad would bring back two orders of fries smothered in salt and ketchup for all of us to share.
“Here, Laura Jean, you hold one. Give the other one to your mother.”
“How come she gets to hold the French fries?” whined John jutting out his chin and shaking his head at me.
“Because she’s the oldest, nah, nah,” answered T.J. sarcastically.
“Yeah, and she’s gonna eat ‘em all.”
“Yep,” I said smugly. In a flash they were both next to me grabbing fries with their grubby fingers.
Watching Dad row was hypnotizing. Dip and swing, dip and back. The steady rhythm and slapping sounds of the oars against the water held me captive for the forty-five minute “sail” across the bay. My brothers hung over the side hoping to catch a glimpse of some kind of sea
Limp like wet noodles from the oppressive heat, we finally crossed over toFire Island. Nearing the shore, Dad jumped out of the boat and cast the anchor. We unloaded bags, blankets, towels and the cooler and began the long hike over the dunes to the ocean. Everyone had to carry something; Dad held the cooler with one strong arm way up on top of his shoulder.
The sun continued to roast us like pigs on a spit and the sand felt like burning embers under our feet. It’s not easy for little people to walk in the sand and Joe cried every time we neared the great dunes.
“Someone carry me!”
“No, walk yourself!” said T.J. unsympathetically.
“Hey, Lau, gimme a piggy-back!”
“No way! It’s too hot and I’d never make it up the dune with you on my back!”
Then he begged, “C’mon, John, gimme a piggy back!”
“Uh, Uh! Whaddya crazy?”
“C’mon, everybody. We’re almost there,” coaxed Dad.
The magnificent dunes towered above us. They were Egyptian sand mountains that reached the sky and it didn’t feel like we were onLong Islandanymore. There was no oxygen in the air; all we could breathe was sun. Steady on the narrow path, it was hard to avoid the dry dune grass which pecked at our ankles as if tiny sand trolls poked us with needles. When the hike became a straight up climb I knew we were close to the ocean.