Hilary Herrick Woodward
It is July 4th 1961 in Southampton, New York. I live in a big old house on North Main Street where my grandfather grew up and even his dad, too. I am seven years old, and so is my favorite cousin, Phil. This morning, we watched the parade go right past our house. The high school band and the football team with my brother, the captain, marched by. The firemen were last. They squirted us with hoses and made a lot of noise. But, this year, I didn’t run behind the hedge to hold my ears.
Now, we are going to the bay for a picnic. My cousins came down from Massachusetts and Phil is here, too, from Riverhead. He is staying with us for two whole weeks because his Mom is away. Our relatives and friends will meet us at “The Tower”, the Bishop’s camp high over Peconic Bay. Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen own it. They have a farm up the road from us in town, but come out here all the time in the summer. We all call each other “family” because we have been friends for a hundred years or maybe even more.
I sit in the back of my father’s pick-up truck along with my sisters and cousins. We are going fast. Wind is blowing in my face. We hold on tight and stare ahead. I am holding my suit and towel, but Phil already has his suit on and is holding his clothes. Everyone’s eyes are on the road ahead. Who ever spots the Tower first is the winner for that trip. It is 3 stories high so the top of the roof peeks over the giant pine trees along the road.
Suddenly, a flash of white flies out of the back of the truck. “What’s that?” shouts my cousin, Robin. It looks like underpants. It is! They belong to Phil. He is holding his clothes in his hands, but his underpants escaped. We are all laughing. Phil is too. We joke about who will find Phil’s under wear and laugh harder. My older sister yells “I see the tower!” Finally we are here.
Everyone helps Mom and Dad unload the picnic supplies. Other families have set up and are already down at the beach. Uncle Tom has gotten the huge grill going. We settle on a spot under the pine trees where the needles cushion us. I take in a big breath. I love the smell. My mother spreads a big blanket and sets up a couple of wooden back rests for Gram and great Aunt Bess. There are hammocks slung between the trees where grandparents can rest, too. There are camp tables, too, for the potluck. Baked beans, potato salads and noodle casseroles are already placed on the tablecloths. Pickles, mustard, ketchup, relish and hamburger rolls and buns are on it, too.
Mom and Dad tell us to start toward the changing shacks to get into our bathing suits. “Don’t touch the poison ivy!” we hear as we start down the path. I stop at the door. I am scared to go in. The wood is old and faded. There are spiders inside. My mom has caught up to me. She says they won’t bite. We hurry into our suits. “Don’t touch the poison ivy” she warns again on the way to the beach. We come to the edge of the bluff. Everyone is on the beach and in the bay. My grandparents are here! There’s Phil! He is playing with Peter in the water. Tommy and his cousin have brought a sailboat. They are out way further than I am allowed to go. I want to race down, but am stuck behind my Mom on the steep narrow steps.
On the beach, I run into the water and start to swim. It is way over my head as I reach the ladder of the float. I am so excited to join all the kids. It is the most fun. We take turns practicing our swan and racing dives and then compete to see who gets the best score. My Dad and my uncle John, judge. I get an 8, almost perfect, just a small splash on entry. Peter, Phil, and Billy are all doing cannonballs. They make so much noise. I do one, too.