This week’s edition of Sweet Saturday Samples is taken from Chapter 33 of Adicia’s story, “Four Graduations and a Wedding.” It’s mid-May of 1966, and everyone’s going to Long Island for oldest sister Gemma’s graduation from Hofstra. Adicia is very excited to take a bus across the Brooklyn Bridge, even more excited to ride a real train, and most excited of all to go to a real beach.
“Did you all bring your bathing suits?” Julie asks. “Mrs. van Niftrik took us shopping for them. I don’t think any of us besides Ernestine has ever even gone swimming.”
“Lenore took Justine and me up to Macy’s to buy them,” Adicia says. “Mine is a pretty blue with yellow flowers, and Justine’s is pink with blue flowers.”
“Might the future Mrs. Troy be wearing a two-piece bathing suit at the beach?” Allen whispers to Lenore.
Lenore blushes. “It’s a one-piece green swimsuit with a skirt attached, so it doesn’t show off too much of my body.”
“You really didn’t have to take us with you on your beach trip to see your oldest sister,” Girl says. “Folks from our social class don’t come by that kinda dough overnight. You’ll hafta work overtime now to get it back.”
“It’s my treat,” Allen insists. “When you grow up poor and come into a little bit of money when you’re a grownup, you wanna indulge yourself from time to time. I still have enough set aside for the basics.”
When the bus stops in Long Island, Adicia, Justine, and Ernestine pick up their schoolbags and Ernestine’s friends pick up the pillowcases where they packed enough clothes and entertainment to last the weekend. Allen and Lenore have packed their things in actual suitcases. Adicia wonders if she’ll ever be able to pack her things in a suitcase, or if she’ll ever own enough things to fit in a normal-sized suitcase.
“It’s a real train!” Justine shouts when they walk up to the train station. “Just like in the old pictures I’ve seen in my schoolbooks!”
“It’s a modern train,” Allen says. “Those pictures you’ve seen were probably old-fashioned steam locomotives. Trains have come a long way since then.”
“1966 really is our best year ever!” Adicia declares as the train comes into view. “The only way it could get better would be if Justine and I moved out of our parents’ house and back with you and Lenore!”
“Can I give you and Lenore the seashells I wanna collect?” Justine asks. “Knowing Tommy, he’d smash them and laugh in my face if he found them.”
“Of course you can, sweetie,” Lenore says. “We can even search for shells together.”
“There are also a lot of pretty rocks on the seashore,” Ernestine says. “I hear some people have a hobby of collecting rocks.”
“Can we take back any little animal friends, like hermit crabs, fish, or seahorses?” Baby asks. “I’d like a pet.”
“It’s not very nice to take strange animals away from their homes and families,” Girl says. “How would you like it if you were a hermit crab and some child on vacation kidnapped you?”
“Maybe someday we’ll have some kind of pet,” Ernestine says.
Adicia excitedly scrambles aboard. After she, her sisters, and their friends have put their luggage in the baggage compartment above their seats, they start wandering the aisles and exploring their new surroundings.
“You might wanna keep seated,” Allen calls. “Hempstead isn’t too far from here. It’s not like we’re going all the way out to the Hamptons.”
“Who are the Hamptons?” Baby asks.
“They’re not people,” Girl smiles. “The Hamptons are a bunch of villages on the east end of Long Island. A lot of rich folks have beach homes there.”
“You mean we’re not allowed to wander around the train?” Infant asks sadly. “When will we ever get to take another train ride?”
“You’re not forbidden to walk around, but I think they like people, particularly kids, to stay seated,” Allen says. “Besides, with the train stopping so soon, we don’t wanna get separated.”
They reluctantly take their seats and try to compensate by people-watching and looking through the windows. Adicia thinks Long Island’s a lot prettier than Manhattan. The streets aren’t crowded with high-rise buildings, and the residents aren’t forced to be crammed on top of one another. People here also live in houses and have their own yards where they can grow flowers and fruit trees.
“Do you think someday we’ll have our own houses?” she asks as the train pulls into Hempstead.
“You bet,” Lenore says. “I want my kids to grow up with a yard to play in and a real house that’s all their own, not some apartment you have to share with a bunch of neighbors and pay to live in every month.”
“I’d like a mansion if I ever get enough money,” Justine says. “It’d have twenty bedrooms, so we all could live there together.”
“How are we getting to our hotel?” Girl asks. “I don’t think this city has a beach.”
“You’ll see,” Lenore says.
The depot is full of people, but Adicia manages to spot Emeline, Lucine, and Gemma in the crowd. She and Justine run over to them, tugging the others with them. Gemma is wearing a bouffant hairstyle and a skirt showing her knees, while Lucine and Emeline are wearing sundresses going to their mid-calves and wearing their hair long, loose, and natural as always. Adicia thinks it looks like Gemma’s got a beehive on top of her hair and can’t understand why this is such a popular hairstyle. Ernestine and Girl meanwhile think it’s very daring for her to show her knees, and wonder if they can start wearing skirts like that. They’ve heard women used to be arrested for showing so much skin, and feel very lucky they’re growing up now instead of fifty or a hundred years ago.
“We’re parked a short walk from here,” Lucine says. “Gemma will take Allen, Lenore, Adicia, and Justine, I’ll take Ernestine, Julie, Girl, and Baby, and Emeline will take Boy and Infant.”
“You know how to drive?” Ernestine asks. “When did that happen?”
“When you live on the island, you need to know how to drive,” Gemma shrugs. “Lucine got driving lessons her freshman year at Hunter and got her license on her nineteenth birthday. Emeline didn’t learn to drive yet, so you two will be going in a taxi with her.”
“You own cars?” Boy asks.
“They’re rentals,” Lucine says. “I wanted to learn to drive while I was still young enough to learn it well, and have that skill before I move outta the city.”
“We’ll be going in real cars?” Baby asks. “I’ve never ridden in a car before!”
“I rode in a police car once,” Adicia says. “Emeline, Tommy, Justine, Allen, and our mother were there too. It was when that cop was taking us to see Carlos in the hospital after his accident. I even got to wear a seatbelt, since I sat in the front seat.”
“These cars have seatbelts in the front seats too,” Lucine says. “You can put your luggage in the trunks.”
They all take in the fresh air as they go to the parking lot. It’s a pity they’ll only be here over a weekend and then have to get back to reality in Manhattan, but it’s nice to get away for a little while. Adicia tells herself that if she ever gets enough money, she’ll always take a vacation to a beach at this time of year, and stay there longer than just one weekend. Justine, Baby, and Infant meanwhile are so overcome with excitement at the thought of staying at the seashore that they don’t even care they don’t have any beach toys to play with. It’s enough that they’ll be going in the water and feeling the sand between their toes.
Lucine’s rental is a blue Volkswagen Beetle, and Gemma’s is a yellow Chrysler. Boy and Infant don’t even care they’ll only be riding in a taxi, since to them a car is a car. They try to remember their false names as they get into the cab with Emeline. Infant is still overcome with fear at remembering how to spell her new name. She knows the average person will probably assume she’s saying Eva with a lisp, but she’ll never be able to remember that funny Irish spelling Girl showed her. It doesn’t make any sense to her to have three vowels in a row.
“I’m David,” Boy says. “That’s my sister Aoife. We have two other sisters, but they’re going to our hotel in other cars.”
“Pretty name,” the driver smiles back at her. “I think you’re the first blonde Eva I’ve ever met. All the Evas I’ve known had dark hair.”
“I’m Irish. It’s the Irish form of Eva. At least, I’m part Irish. I don’t know enough about our family history to know if we’re Irish on both sides all the way back.”
“I’m not surprised. It seems like about half the population of Manhattan is of Irish ancestry. I have an Irish great-grandmother on my mother’s side myself. Your older friend said she’s half French and half Belgian.”
“Our last name is Ryan,” Boy says. “ Our mother had an Irish name too.”
The girls in the other cars wave at them as the three cars pull out of the lot and start driving towards the hotel on the beach. Justine stands up in the backseat and waves her rabbit’s paw at them too.
“That’s my best friend Justine,” Infant says. “Someone at a mission in my old neighborhood gave her that bunny at Easter when she was thirteen months old. It’s been her friend ever since. It’s just like in some story Emeline told us once, about some little boy who gets a stuffed rabbit for Christmas and loves it so much that it eventually turns into a real rabbit.”
“The Velveteen Rabbit,” Emeline provides. “Isn’t that a beautiful story? When someone loves you enough, even if you’re run-down and shabby-looking, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. You’re beautiful and real to the people who love you.”
Gemma’s car is the first to arrive at the hotel. Adicia and Justine scramble out and gaze at the seashore, only a short distance from the hotel. They impatiently wait for Allen and Lenore to get their luggage and go into the main office to check in, so eager are they to put on their swimsuits and head down to the beach to swim, bask in the sun, and feel the warm sand underfoot.