The Beach Family
The Beach Family By Andrew Roth We were driving along Deerfield road to buy herbs for the flowerbed when the sun finally broke through the clouds of the early morning. On the right side of the road there were bulldozers scooping up topsoil, and a half-mile down the road we saw horses. They were lean and brown, and they looked healthy and young. “What do you think those houses go for,” Grandpa asked, pointing to the new construction twenty yards from the road. “Three million,” I guessed. “Six point nine,” Grandpa said. “Can you believe it?” “That seems high.” “To me these are all well built, sturdy, serious houses. Built for people to say look at me, I’m wealthy.” Suburbia, I thought to myself. “When we bought our place, it was supposed to be a getaway like a place in the mountains or a hut on the beach. With these houses, where’s the romance?” We bought basil, rosemary, and mint for the flowerbed, and pachysandra for the soil by the driveway. We were enjoying the novelty of the work, and when we had planted all the pachysandra, we wanted to plant more. We planted the herbs next, tilling the soil and finding knots of roots in the flowerbed that I would joyously rip from the ground. Grandpa choreographed the herbs into formations, and I would hover the spade over the ground, waiting for him to say, “there!” before striking where he said. And by the time we were through, there was an hour until our dinner reservation. Grandma had booked the reservation for seven o’clock at a seafood restaurant with a view of the bay. At our round table, the six of us, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt and Uncle, Girlfriend and I, could watch the boats docked by the wharf and the fleeting colors of the setting sun. We shared fried calamari and steamed cockles, and Uncle ordered a ribs dish marinated in coca-cola. The winner of the meal was Aunt who had ordered the soft-shell crab, and she was gracious enough to let us all try some. As the meal was winding down, Grandpa said something I thought was very interesting. “You know, when someone says they don’t like Jewish food, they’re not saying, I don’t like Jewish people, but still I get sensitive. What do you mean you don’t like Jewish food?” “What it means is, we don’t like the food or the Jews who make it,” said Uncle. “Right exactly. I know I shouldn’t be offended but I am. If you don’t like the food, then you don’t like me.” “Well I’m Korean and when people say they don’t like Korean food I get offended,” Girlfriend said. “Korean food is very healthy,” Aunt said. Then Uncle addressed me directly. “Your mom, would she ever eat that rice porridge in the morning? What’s it called?” “Congee.” “Congee!” uncle snapped his fingers. “Congee Village on Bowery, have you been there?” “No but it sounds good.” “It’s the cheapest place to eat after Noodletown.” “Your dad loves noodle town,” Aunt said. “So your mom didn’t eat congee?” Uncle continued. “Not in the morning. She doesn’t really eat breakfast. Just coffee.” “Interesting.” There was a silence, and I smiled at Girlfriend. Then Aunt said to Uncle, “you’re so quiet.” “I can talk about anything you want,” Uncle said. “Bloomberg?” Aunt asked. “No one wants to hear me talk about Bloomberg.” “Obama? “Leave Obama alone.” “Drones?” “Please. Enough people are upset.” That night after our seafood dinner in the restaurant with the view of the bay, Girlfriend, Grandpa and I sipped decaf coffee at the sunken table in the kitchen. When we had arrived that morning, we had talked about movie stars and baseball while munching on tuna salad with toast. But under night the kitchen was solemn, as though pressuring us to say things that I didn’t want to hear. Grandpa asked about Girlfriend’s work at her magazine, then my work at my magazine, and I couldn’t pay attention. But I wanted to tell him that I thought my working for an intellectual magazine was silly business. And I didn’t know which answer I would fear more, his approval or disapproval. I thought he respected money over curiosity, and I was questioning myself for having left a better paid career. I told this to Girlfriend in the guesthouse as we undressed for bed. “You should open up to him,” she said. “He was staring at you, and you didn’t talk.” “I know. I’m afraid that if I open up I’ll become a sobbing mess.” “Maybe he’d like that. What will happen when he dies and you don’t speak up?” “Regret,” I said. “You don’t want that. He’s really softer than you think.” I lay down and saw a vision of my Grandfather. It wasn’t a memory but a recapitulation, some familiar frontier that I could always see but never find. There was the smell of ocean salt and the feel of cool sand between my toes, and there was a breeze flowing through my white linen shirt. I was an older man, and my Grandpa was a younger man; the very same man who walked into the kitchen this morning while we were brewing a pot of coffee; when it was just me and Girlfriend, and Aunt and Uncle. Sitting next to me in the car on Deerfield road, he was still the same man. However deep we had split, he was still grateful that the family had come by. We were building a new family out here today, and it was easier than I had expected.