Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In 4th grade, there was a rite of passage, in my Elementary School. It was a week long trip to Fire Island. It was the trip. The one you waited for since you entered Wing Street Elementary School. It was in the Fall, just as the season ends, and the raw Winter weather pushes in. All of your fundraising efforts were for this trip. It was legend. My older sister went. Everyone who grew up in the "T" section, my Levitt neighborhood, lived for this moment. I laid in bed dreaming of it since 2nd grade. The thought of going was too much to even think about at times. The level of excitement rivaled Christmas.
Fire Island is a barrier Island off Long Island. No cars are on Fire Island. It is miles long, and I don't even think a half mile wide. It is a giant sand bar. One side of the Island is on the Great South Bay, and the other is the Atlantic Ocean. The land in the middle is a magical world. Mostly sand dunes. And an amazing "Sunken Forest". A boardwalk goes through the entire forest. It is long, and twisty. Strange trees and plants abound.
When the fourth graders go to Fire Island, they stay in Ranger housing. Barracks really. The cafeteria is ocean side, and a bit of a walk from where you sleep. The "classroom" is at the Ranger station. There were amazing items laid out there, for you to touch. Razor clam shells, and horseshoe crabs. All sorts of seaweed, and birds nests. Shells, and tree bark. There was a great big fire place. At night, we gathered around it, and Mr. Raso, clearly an alcoholic, and chain smoker, read "The Tell Tale Heart" to us. We ate s'mores, and held each other. He told us of the legend of Whistling Sam, a pirate who, along with other pirates, had buried treasure, somewhere in the Sunken Forest. His greedy partners wanted more of a share  in the loot, so they tied him to a tree, and let the tide come up, and drown him. It is said he whistled, as his last attempt for help, and at night, you can hear that whistle in the wind. You could, and it was the scariest thing I had ever heard.
We spent our days in waders, standing in the bay, and looking at underwater life through these great big floating microscopes. We caught things in nets, and dissected sea creatures. We dug, and diagrammed everything. I even tasted sarsaparilla.
Before dinner at night, we played football on the ocean. It was cold and gray. I remember how ominous the sea looked to me. Yet, it was exhilarating. My hair smelled like salt water, and fresh air all week. It was magic. Pure magic.
My mother and I were very close when I was in 4th grade. She packed my bag for me, and in it, she put four envelopes, with a letter for each night I was there. She said to read one, privately, before bed. I did. I looked forward to each one. I would bring them in the bathroom, because I didn't want my girlfriends, who I was rooming with, to make fun of me. In each letter, she told me how beautiful I was, and how smart I was. She told me how proud she was of me. She told me that there was something different about me. That I was special, and I was a gift to her, and my father. I remember how happy those letters made me. They made me feel like I was a gift. They made me love my mother so much.
When I returned that Friday from my week away, my room was clean, and organized. My mother had even cleaned out my hairbrush. She made my favorite dinner, and listened intently to my long, drawn out adventures of being on the beach. She seemed so happy. When she tucked me in that night, my sheets were all freshly laundered, and smelled so good. It was such a happy, safe feeling. We said our goodnight prayers. She told me she had spent a lot of time in my room, all week. This really surprised me. I remember, asking her why. She said that my room was her favorite room in the house. I couldn't believe this. She had a family room, and a big living room, with a fireplace. She had a pretty bedroom. My room was nothing compared to those rooms. It was filled with my stuff, and things looked a little messy. My sense of style, and decorating, not yet  fully formed. Yet, this was her favorite room? She said that it made her happy to be in it. She could smell me, and feel my smile. She liked to sit on my bed, in the afternoon, when the sun came through the window, and shined through the rainbow sticker I had on the window. I liked that time of day too. The room turned all different colors. She said she liked to look at the things I had on my dresser, and she liked the way all my stuffed friends had their own spots on the bed.
I never understood her love of my room, and honestly thought she was just being kind to me. Funny how, now, when I feel overwhelmed, or a need for some calm, I wander in my girls rooms. I can feel them. I can feel the safe, loving place we created.
It wraps it's loving arms around you.
I understand. 

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