One Wednesday evening about a month ago, I was cruising north on the freeway after an entertaining lesson with this year's wee drummer dude. Music boomed from the speakers, my hair blew free around my face, and I mused that I had just weeks to go before the drive would take on its summertime identity as a gauntlet of Lexi (Lexuses?) and Mercedes(es?) northbound from Westchester and New Jersey at me-me-me speeds. It's the sacrifice for living where other people go on their summer vacations. About the time I cleared the bridges that separate city from country, my phone, clamped into its convenient holder, lit up with a familiar face. I raised the windows and tapped the speaker icon.
My Aunt Mary's voice, so much like my grandmother's, filled the car. My dad's tones reflect a melange of Northeast and West Coast. My South-based Aunt Anne has a Connecticut-meets-Confederacy accent. My Aunt Mary, though, is Nutmegger through and through. The entertainment at many a family event has centered around whether the word is pronounced kwohrter or kwahter, for example. Daniel Webster's Connecticut provenance has been invoked on repeated occasions, by those on both sides of the argument.
For all the affection and laughter that my small East Coast extended family shares when we are together, it's rare that we actually are together. There are kids. There have been health problems. So a phone call out of the blue always triggers a tiny moment of alarm and the hope that all is well with everyone. Then, more often than not, we learn that Relative A has called Relative B in search of the lyrics of a novelty song circa 1955, family lore from three generations back, confirmation of an obscure fact, or a pun that's so bad it must be shared.
Sidenote: I once stopped a business dinner cold by bringing up the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. I blame genetics. Together with all four of my cousins (Aunt Mary's kids), I grew up knowing that, when in doubt, one should call Aunt Anne, because she knows everything. Aunt Anne is a reference librarian. If she doesn't actually know everything, she certainly knows where to look it up.
In any case, this time, my delightfully impetuous Aunt Mary was calling to tell me that she'd read my post about fun day trips and things to do. And, her birthday having passed by just recently, she had been trying to drum up some company for an afternoon at Harkness Memorial State Park, which I just happened to have mentioned.
I think my cousins and I were all brought up with the stories of our parents' youthful birthday adventures. My grandparents, raising three young children on working-class salaries in the 1950s and 1960s, always allowed each child to choose where they'd go for their birthday. Requests for visits to the shore or one of the many state parks were common. Harkness was my Aunt Mary's perennial choice, she reminded me.
So, she wondered, would I be up for an impromptu jaunt down to the coast? In the way typical of most of my family, she'd already checked potential dates, confirmed that my eldest cousin was up for some fun, and considered how the travel timing and meals might sync up.
My Aunt Mary has a reputation for being someone who makes things happen. However, she's also been known to climb onto my dad's motorcycle and mug for the camera with a wicked twinkle in her eye. I have watched her sit down on a stool at a coffee shop counter in rural New York and, in 60 seconds flat, strike up a laughter-filled, meal-long chatter with the anonymous, aging farmer to her left. And, not too many years ago, she, my cousin Rosemary, and I found ourselves standing in front of one of the exhibits at Fort Ticonderoga, calling up my grandmother on speakerphone as we collectively tried to recall one historical tidbit or another.
There was, obviously, only one answer to her question: You bet. Name the day! Everybody pack a lunch! Maybe we'll eat dinner out! Let's go!
So here's the deal, Connecticut. I'll trade you a tourist for a day. You can have the gauntlet of Lexi. It's all yours. I'll go soak up some sun on the Sound with my family.