How Did We Get Here?
As I glanced around at the smiling faces of my family sitting in beach chairs amidst bonfires and underneath a shower of July 4th fireworks in Montauk I began to wonder how we had gotten there. Obviously, I don’t mean how we arrived transportation-wise (we drove our own cars if you were wondering). But, rather, I wondered how “family night” had morphed into Sefick family fun vacation in the Hamptons on the fourth of the seventh month with my own children and a couple of nephews. So, I looked back.
A hair under thirty years ago my mom, dad, brother, and I established “family night,” a once a week event on Sunday evenings that brought us together to watch a movie before starting the next seven stressful days of studying, working, practicing, and being away from one another. The choice of film rotated among the four of us, so the range was quite eclectic, except for when my younger brother, John, chose movies. He had an odd affinity for period pieces: “Ben-Hur,” “1776,” and so on. Figure that out for yourselves. Regardless, it was a wonderful idea that my parents invented for our family, and John and I enjoyed the time, even as we reached the ages when Sunday nights could have been spent with friends. In fact, my own buddies still recall acknowledging that phoning me to see if I were available to go out was foolhardy because Sefick family fun night was in full effect.
While we all always looked forward to those Sunday evenings, we also kept our eyes on the summer, specifically, a possible seven days camping at Hither Hills State Park. My parents would determine acceptable weeks when we could go and then, nine months prior to those dates, they would sit, dialing up the internet or repeatedly calling the park with the hope of securing a site. Time and time again, we lucked out. Whether we were marching to the beach every day, playing softball, throwing horseshoes, riding bikes, playing tetherball, mini-golfing, grilling food, or eating at restaurants, we loved each moment we were there.
With that said, this year stood out to me more than ever because my five and a half year old daughter, Charlotte, and three year old son, Colby, were getting their first taste of what I grew up on.
“That one has Christmas colors!” Charlotte exclaimed from her beach chair a few spots from mine. “And that one looks like a rainbow!”
“Colby, do see the fireworks? I asked, sitting beside him, reaching my arm around his shoulder.
“Yes,” he replied, covering his ears with his palms. “They are loud.”
I smiled. Then, I put him on my lap.
Grandma (my mom) moved her chair closer to the kids so that she, too, could get a sense of their wonderment.
“Jonah, Isaac, Charlotte, Colby!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t this beautiful?”
It was, and she knew it. I knew it, too. I wonder if mom had earlier versions of my brother and me in mind as she sat there watching the show, which was not the fireworks for her but each expression that crossed the face of each grandchild.
Even grandpa (dad), a seemingly stoic person, kept a watchful eye on his grandkids; and, as he did, I am sure that there were a number of moments when he reimagined John and me young again, marching down to the beach with him to play a game of whiffle ball after setting up umbrellas and blankets, and chairs.
After the display had ended, we piled into cars and drove back to the East Hampton house in which we were staying. I was certain that Charlotte and Colby would fall asleep on the drive, but they didn’t. Instead, what I kept seeing in my rearview mirror were two smiling faces, reliving what they had just experienced.
The next day, Charlotte drew pictures of what she had seen the night before, trying to move technicolor from the sky to a page so that she would have evidence of it for the rest of the summer. Colby chattered away about how noisy the fireworks were but also his excitement to see them again the next year.
So, I guess, in a very real way, my time out east on Long Island this summer made me realize that looking back, looking at the present, and looking forward are all, oddly, the same. We have memories, we have the moment, and we have what we look towards.
Someday, I hope to have grey hairs (or hair in general) atop my head, eyes that peer through glasses, and knees that work well enough for me to feel confident standing up after watching my Charlotte, my Colby, as married people with kids (my grandchildren) gazing in wonder at the July 4th fireworks in Montauk ready to reminisce more about our time as a family.