The Last Bite of Childhood
On Columbus Day Weekend on the East End of Long Island, after the sparkles dull and the beaches empty, fishermen and plumbers, farmers and teachers come out from the holes into which they were chased by deafening German sedans and blinding pants and they enjoy the town they once had a firm grasp on. This particular weekend toples over the blooming peonies of Memorial Day Weekend, the bursting fireworks of 4th of July and the browning of the first leaves leaves on Labor Day Weekend; on this weekend, kids grab onto the remnants of their faded tans and ride their last waves in the crisping ocean, light their closing sparklers in the waning moonlight, and clip off their sandy rope bracelets in great protest. The most significant of my memories of these last hurrah weekends is the one which occurred shortly into the first semester of 11th grade. Only five weeks into the year, and I had already found myself yearning for a relief of some sort, but however, one which a pillow or a beach could not provide. Instead, I wanted the one piece of nostalgia still graspable despite my almost full submersion into the transitional period into “the rest of my life.” I wanted to go fishing.
While most people were sleeping, or just getting to sleep, like every Monday morning of the season’s closing day, my alarm screamed throughout our one story ranch home so loud that the dark spots on the aged knotty pine walls shook like speakers at the bars which boomed a mere 30 degrees ago. My dog was the first to react to the flash of my phone and the jingling clap from his collar rang through the home louder than any sea storm that rolled off the bay. I looked out my window and the sun must have still been fishing because it had yet to shine into my window and force my eyes awake. Slowly, I rolled out of the raspy bed, pulled back the out-of-season pastel patchwork quilt and began to wake up by putting my feet on the cool red and white checkered tiles that warned of the cool ocean water awaiting me. In the kitchen, I met with my dad and we stared at each other as the wind picked up and woke the leaf piles we raked less than 16 hours before. We exchanged looks as he questioned my sanity and I admired his altruism. I slid on my old pair of salted corduroys kept in my fishing crate, and doubled up my socks. We got in the car and I adjusted my seat so the 11 foot fishing rod in the trunk wouldn’t stab at my back too much. The dead-end road, once filled with other summer kids waking up with their fathers to fish in the days of my dad’s childhood, was now lifeless and to compensate for this, I slid the keys into the ignition and without starting the car, shifted it into neutral and rolled down the long concrete driveway; in doing so, a barrage of acorns crackled like commencement fireworks as we set off eastward toward Montauk.
I pulled onto the main drag and passed through the quaint hamlets, now free of Dior and daiquiris. We stopped at a red light and my brights fully illuminated the forgotten-about Tiffany Blue awning and shined into the store so bright that we witnessed the dust bunnies playing with the forsaken diamonds which could only hope to be bought by the one lone local looking to impress his wife for Christmas. The light changed and soon East Hampton was no longer a boulevard of marvelous pre-war storefronts; instead it became an oasis of light on an isolated route of darkness. We drove onto the Napeague strip— the neck, if Montauk is the head— and the salt bushes, whose leaves have been stiffened by ages of speedy cars stripping them of their dignity, greeted us with a cold whiff far more welcoming than any Yankee Candle.
As the strip ended, our finish line was lit by a creamy waxing moon and a plethora of fluorescent motel “Vacancy” signs. On the left sat the meeting ground for fishermen both heading out in their dry jeans and coming back in their soggy socks which rang themselves out with each step— only to reabsorb the brine until their recovering body temperatures dried out their stale but immortal boots. I made a quick and surprised turn and pulled into the makeshift clubhouse of 7/11. Men in wet and dry waders exchanged grunting small talk and lies about where and what the bass were biting. I was just happy to be acknowledged as someone other than the teenage kid always in the tackle shop. Here, I looked as if I belonged. I filled up the oversized green coffee cup and pulled out a sticky jelly donut. We got back in the car to continue east just a few more minutes to the lip-purpling Atlantic.
Along the way, I worked on my coffee and donut, sipping and thinking about the welcoming cold that awaited my first step out of the mobile hotbox. The donut, a staple in my diet since God-knows-when, tasted just as pure and sweet as the ones I got for behaving in Church. The neon purple filling and white powered sugar framed my mouth like a fence marking off the last bit of childhood before returning home to fully immerse myself into junior year. The last bite was extra doughy and warranted a sip of bitter coffee which I was steadily growing accustomed to; however, no matter how much sugar I added, I could never stop it from overpowering the sweetness of childhood I so desperately struggled to hang on to. I got out of the car, ran to the tailgate and put on my waders. I took my last sip of coffee, the last reminder of the outside world, and boldly joined the other fishermen in our march to the beachfront, hats on, slickers zipped, and slivers of childhood in hand.