Despite my lingering sickness, I drive down to Watch Hill for a rather extravagant dinner at a newly-renovated beachfront resort. It is dark, so I don’t get to see the coastline greet me, but as I approach, the air takes on the unmistakable qualities of the sea – heavy with moisture, the salt in it, the smell of seaweed and eelgrass.
We had been here once before, M. and me – back before the renovations, when the place was sprawling and run-down, the old floorboards sloped and the paint chipped and worn. A former writing teacher of his staying here for a few days by the beach with her young daughter, nearly the same age as Z. We all drove down one afternoon and sat together on the wide porch that faced the ocean. The girls considered each other cautiously at first, but by the end of our time there, we took photos of them sitting side by side on a bench swing, not touching, but facing each other, smiling.
When I arrive, the bar is warm and lively. Uniformed staff move silently through the crowd, bearing trays of cocktails and beautiful little morsels arranged on bone white plates. I take a glass, sit facing the fireplace, wait for my friend J. to arrive.
Blackbird Farm Beef Tongue, Crispy Sauerkraut, Pickled Mustard Seed
Sweet Potato, Smoked Ikura Roe, Pine, Sour Cream
Crispy Chicken Skin, Malt Mayo, Furikake
Pickled Shrimp, Lardo, Blood Orange
Citadelle Gin, Sobieski Vodka, Cocchi Americano and Dandelion Burdock Bitters
Citadelle Gin, Combier, Cocchi Americano, Lime, Yuzu and Lavender Bitters
Growing up, vacations were frequent but modest. One year, we drove down to Florida from New York, staying in roadside motels along the way. Driving through Georgia, my mother warned us to stay down low in the car – that there, in the south, there might be people who wouldn’t like us because we were not white. So for several hours, we hunched on the floor of the car, my sister and me, peeking our heads up – only occasionally and surreptitiously – for snacks.
Once, during one of these overnight stops, we are up late and giddy, all of us. My sister and me, jumping up and down on the wide hotel beds, and my mother – in a rare, unguarded moment – begins jumping, too. This emboldens us and my sister starts leaping from one bed to the next and back. Occasionally, she adds the flourish of a somersault when she lands. I follow her and then my mother does, too. The low hum of the television in the background. We jump back and forth, from bed to bed, the three of us and we are laughing and shrieking with delight. My sister, after a particularly well-executed landing declares, “Look at us! We are bed-hopping!”
This makes my mother laugh so hard she has to stop, sit down on the edge of the bed. We keep going, though, and so the bed bounces as she sits there, trying to catch her breath. “Yes,” she says, finally, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with the tissue she extracts from her shirt sleeve. “Yes, I suppose you could say that we are.”
Kombu-Crusted Blackbird Farm Egg, Sea Urchin, Broccoli, Sorrel, Toasted Seeds, Soubise
Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka, St. Germain, Fresh Lime & Cucumber, Regatta Ginger Beer
When J. arrives, we meander into what is now the dining room, but had been the wide porch we sat on all those years ago.
We talk about work, about our husbands. We married writers and thinkers, J. and I, and we share stories about their attempts to build things with their hands. I tell her of M.’s porch railing, the careful way he measured and cut. The childlike delight he took in seeing the thing complete. After decades of manipulating only words and ideas, how simple and solid a porch rail is. How you can lean against it, and it will hold your weight.
One weekend to build it, the next to paint it, lovingly with careful strokes. Each morning and night, this visible reminder that there are at least some small spaces in the world into which one can put a thing that is useful, that endures.
60-Day Aged Blackbird Farm NY Strip
Roasted Carrot, Onion, Roasted Beef Jus
Bols Genever, Campari, Beet Syrup, Fresh Lime, Angostura & Cranberry Bitters, Grated Cinnamon
J. tells me of the early days and weeks of their marriage. How in the evenings, they would read to each other – the ancient poets, philosophers. I imagine them by candlelight, sitting so close together, taking turns reading passages aloud from leather-bound books, the pages yellowed and dry. Their incantations, their declarations of love. Twenty-four years, she says, and we both shake our heads and marvel at the passage of time, as if we are the first to ever note its passing.
The plates set in front of us are so beautifully composed that they seem unreal. I am hesitant to take my fork to them.
We talk of our mothers, of how they took little pleasure in preparing meals. Of the ways in which eating was merely functional – a task to be completed efficiently.
As I let a bit of carrot melt on my tongue, luxuriate in its sweetness, I think of my mother as if she were sitting there with us, wrinkling her nose, frowning.
Chamomile Panna Cotta
Carrot-Pistcachio Sponge Cake, White Chocolate, Buttermilk
Aquavit, Verjus, St. Urbans-hof Kabinett Riesling, Vanilla Syrup, Fresh Lemon, Orange Citrate Bitters, Egg White, Absinthe Flame
After the wedding, we splurge on an expensive hotel downtown. My aunt stays with Z. in the purple house on the west side where we have lived as a family for the last year or so.
M. had arranged for a late-night concert for our friends, after the reception. By the time we get to the hotel, it is so late. We are starving. We order terrible pizza, have it delivered. On the pristine white sheets, we sit cross-legged and eat with our bare hands from the cardboard box. The cheese is molten hot but we let it burn our lips and tongues, let it drip down on our chins. We use the thin, rough take-out napkins to wipe at each other’s faces. Dizzy with hunger, tired from the day, we laugh with our mouths open.
If ever – before or since – we took more pleasure in a meal together, I do not think that I can recall it.
Charred Applewood, Applejack, Campari & Dolin Rouge Vermouth
I follow J. back to the highway. It is pitch dark and the roads are winding. For a long while, we keep pace, with me trailing her just a bit. Behind a truck, I grow impatient, and speed on ahead in the passing lane. I pull in front of them both and drive on into the night, but I know she is back there and that both of us are so close to home.