B.E.A.s on the Bay
For most of the seventies, my parents, Bev and Erik, drove to their buddy’s bungalow on the bay for a laid back, shellfish and sailboat themed reunion of sorts. Every summer, a group of their far flung friends met in Peconic, and every summer one of them put a clam knife through their hand. This occurred so often over the years that the “clam hand award” was designed and each summer it was presented to whoever needed the most stitches. Cruel silliness and inside jokes made the physical distance between them irrelevant, and the clams that burrow under the east end’s coarse sand and smooth pebbles in front of a tiny bungalow on the bay became the meals that kept their collective friendship fat and happy.
I made my first journey east in August 1981. Bev, Erik, and I rode over the GWB, crossed the Bronx, and gladly coped with the entire length of the L.I.E (see also: “the longest parking lot in the world”). Just like the years before, conch shells were collected and bay water was swallowed. Holes were dug on the beach for cooking shellfish and farm stand corn. Sand was tracked into the house and it was not vacuumed up until cars started pulling out of the driveway. On the return trip there was ineluctable traffic on the Cross Bronx. Bumper to bumper, we made it back to Jersey and our regular lives, sunburned faces glowing and friendships inspirited.
I was born two months later.
Ok so it’s true, because of my fetal circumstances I have no conscious memory of my 1981 sojourn on the North Fork. But I have seen the pictures and heard the stories detailing my first lon-guyland pilgrimage.
There is framed picture my father took of my mother fishing for snapper off the beach at dawn. She is resting a fish bent pole on the belly bulge that is me. Bev is gazing out over the bay, surely focused on a half submerged popper, as she reels in a tiny bluefish. Her PJs are the same shade of sherbert orange as the sunrise reflecting off the water. I was fishing by proxy. I was an amniotic angler.
My mother still blames me and my excess gestational fluid for the most harrowing bungalow return trip of her entire life! It was Sunday in the summer and they had already crossed the Throgs Neck. She clenched every muscle in her body and endured my bladder busting rambunctiousness as they inched towards Jersey. Her pants remained dry but she suffered a urinary trauma so complete she had “pee up to her eyeballs”.
These and many more stories and pictures provide us with an oral and visual history of our first family vacation. But I am certain that, because of my internal predicament, our holiday left a visceral imprint on my prenatal being. The snappers my parent caught, the bivalves they poached, and the corn they shucked went straight from the bay, the creek, and the dirt into my parent’s bellies. During the hunting and gathering, my parents inhaled damp salt air, were lulled by the constant sound of water on the shore, and were enveloped in the kindness and the kookiness of their friends. All I could do was passively absorb the good food, the good air, and the good vibes from deep inside Bev.
Souls brimmed and spilled over into my still developing embryonic cellular structure. It is scientifically possible that 1981 trip tweaked my DNA; even 35 years later, I get a case of the primordial heebeejeebees the minute we (yes we, I continue to accompany Bev and Erik out east every single year) clear the last exit off the longest parking lot in the world.
It is 2016 and my parents are no longer partying like it’s the seventies, they are in their seventies. When they are gone, for the first time in my life, I will be forced to make the trip out to the North Fork without them. That first car ride will not be easy for me; there is no code in my genome that is prepared for this day. But those roadways are a different, often replicated, haploid strand. I will get in my car and travel to a bungalow that stores a lifetime of images and stories. I will hear years of our family’s laughter echoing back at me when each wave hits the beach. Grains of unvacuumed sand that I track in will join the unvacuumed sand of summers past.. Every clam in the bay that survived all our summer hunts will be ripe for the poaching. I know that the happy ghosts of my parents and their friends will lead my clam rake over them and when it is time, they will guide my shucking hand in a way that will leave me with minimal stitches.