August 28, 2023 (Last Updated August 30, 2023)48 Hour Books
We are pleased to announce the winner of our 2023 ‘Summer Vacation” Writing Contest:
Memories of Earth, Wind, Water, and Sky
by Sandra J Anaya
We all have memories. Outlines from the past, both strong and faint, wrapped up in a package of personal experience. My memory castle was strong as I looked out onto the sea of water. The ocean was like a shiny star, bright in its spectrum of banded blue and sparkling with its electric pigment of light and dark sapphire and green. I could not help but think of my mother’s eyes, strikingly intense, twinkling, with a friendly brilliance of blended color.
We were at the beginning of summer and th last edge of spring. I was studying to be a nurse, living from hand to mouth with the help of government loans, a trigger of hopeful dreams, part-time jobs, and unflinching perseverance. I managed to save money for a week’s getaway with members of the geology department, who caravanned together each year to a camp site, about thirty miles away from San Felipe. A gift for my 5-year-old son. A low-cost vacation that allowed us to spend time together, with people who knew what camping was all about. I was with a friend from school who had three children and was studying to be a schoolteacher. She had talked me into the trip. The pensive thoughts unfolded from my own childhood, drifting in like the trickle of lapping water. They were vivid in my own dreaminess.
While looking into the water and the outer ends of white foam made up of layers and ridges, I could not help but think back to a vacation with my mother and two brothers, to Yosemite National Forest. My mother, who was no more a camper than I was, had braved the trip with friends, each with children of their own. I could not help but smile to myself as I thought of the old, sleek-nosed black Oldsmobile that my mother had driven on the curved and twisted mountain road somewhere in the mid 1950’s. I had not given much thought to that courageous adventure which had been powered by her plucky daring.
While maneuvering roads that fed through the tri-colored mountains of white, brown, and gold, my mother had convinced us that the car would not make it up the twisted hills and turns unless we rocked back and forth in our seats singing, “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” We sang the chorus loud and clear as we swayed and shifted, willing the car to climb around every wavy curve. It worked, and the car made it around the last bend to stop at the crowed campsite that was filled with laughing children and families waiting for their next adventure.
At the time, we did not understand the sacrifice she had made. During our early childhood there had been what seemed like endless days of potato soup and what we called hamburger stew. In later years, we joked with her, that she never told us the potato soup was called Vichyssoise. There were times she would gather up enough dimes for a movie, or for swimming at the local plunge, the pool located in a nearby park where we would stay all day for a quarter. Life was simple and we were happy with trivial things. Thursday was pay day. She would arrive home with three pastrami sandwiches, three orders of French fries, and three cokes. We were content with that consistent ritual, the impact of which we never thought about. Trivial things, looking back, brought boundless joy.
I had never seen trees so tall and thick in the showground called a forest. They seemed to sway and flow through the sunlit sky, gently and quietly, and I believed, they reached all the way to heaven. I remember, even now, gazing up through high, far-reaching branches, and how my fingers pressed against the spongy, thick bark of each giant tree, while touching darkened wood. My feet had marched over crispy twigs and broken undergrowth that seemed to shout out in protest from the uniform movement. As I walked under the trees, I watched squirrels, bold and free, scamper up and down far-reaching limbs that looked like strong muscles. They owned every crease, wrinkle, and fold.
The leaves were colorful. They seemed sharp and pointed, with bunches made up of different shades based on where they stood, and their place under the sun. I danced happily around those trees with my two brothers, stepping over egg-shaped cones and untamed undergrowth. There were no electronic games in those days. We were expected to eat, read, play, pray, and sleep.
Those nights way back then, were filled with sitting around the campfire, roasting wieners, and marshmallows charred by a blazing fire. The flames glowed and radiated, under a bright, round, cheddar-faced moon. Years later, I would sing a song to my youngest son, made popular by Dean Martin, who was known for his voice, his acting, and his crooning swagger. He sang, while holding a glass of wine during TV appearances. To this day, I associate that song with the memories of the moon from the camping trip and the contour of a pizza. In later years, while I maneuvered through the lined rows of the supermarket, I would sing the words of the catchy tune to my youngest. On cue, he would shout “that’s amore.” Singing the song became a ritual while we shopped.
“When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that's amore.
When the world seems to shine
Like you have had too much wine, that's amore.
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting a ling a ling…”
Ting-a-ling-a-ling, you will sing, "Vita Bella…"
I still tell the story of how my mother forced us to stand in the lake so she could take a photograph. It was to be part of our reminiscence. Goosebumps popped up on untanned skin as the three of us balked at what felt like wintry frost. In the middle of summer, we were holding our arms around our shoulders, slanted forward, as if we could protect ourselves from the coldness and chills that we felt up and down our quivering torsos. Our teeth chattered and our bodies shook in protest. I can still hear her command to “smile,” shouting, “act like you are having an enjoyable time.” As soon as we heard the click of the camera, we bolted out of the water, stumbling over rocks that looked painted by the sun in various shades of red, yellow, green, and brown dye. The black and white photograph only captured our shocked expressions and startled looks. Fractured smiles reflecting dismay opposed the strength of the pebbles beneath our feet, the soft swirl of the lake, and the background of the light that swayed through the flow.
At night, beside the campfire, vacationers spoke of bold, black bears, famous for stealing food, and tinted snakes that coiled in sleeping bags or under heated rocks. We were warned to remain alert and cautious. We heard a howling coyote, sly enough to remain hidden in the distance, while we listened to the soft tones of a hooty owl that harmonized with the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the branches.
The sound of the surf and the power of the sea brought me out of my reverie and musing. I did not know, at that early age so many years ago, the name of the Sequoia trees that had captured my wonder. I moved away from lofty branches and majestic trees and the place where gold miners had viewed lunar rainbows, waterfalls, and clear streams, to stare again at the warm, intense, and bottomless blue sea. I acknowledged the lull of the slapping waves and moved towards another form of nature’s beauty and another moment in time.
We awakened early each day and walked along the ocean’s floor, with buckets and shovels in hand, across sandbars that were firmly and prominently displayed by the low tide. Soft edges were flanked by pockets of furrows and folds as the squeaky sand gave way beneath our bare feet. With the sun peeking over the horizon, we were able to see the ocean’s spacious and patterned floor. Each day promised salty warmth and the force and passion of the ocean’s strength and influence. Soft sand stretched for miles beneath the light, pastel sky, and the rough, powdered gravel beneath our feet became our hunting ground.
Burrowed in the powder were bright and multi-colored seashells with spiral shaped patterns sculptured on the surface of their spine. They displayed light orange interiors and were the home for soft-bodied sea snails. Frail, rounded shells the shape of silver dollars could be found with slightly raised outlines that felt like light sandpaper. Clam shells, lining the sandy forts of nature’s crush, lay silently, in pale gray. We delighted in the hunt and the capture.
The rented RV, courtesy of my mother, had served as the carrot to bring my younger brother along on the trip. The small stove, which was used to boil out unsuspecting critters served us well. Once the slimy bodies were removed, we cleansed the shells with muriatic acid and polished them with oil, to a glistening shine. We were happy to do this day after day, storing the clean, smooth shells gently in soft paper towels and plastic containers to take home as keepsakes. We were back at the campsite each day before the tides, pushed by the wings of a gentle breeze, rolled in to kiss our feet.
It was the seventies. Change and unrest was all around us, pivoting, revolving, swiveling, and pushing through the battle of the sexes and the growing feminist movement. The promise was that economic liberty for women was in the making. The Vietnam War had just ended, and political awareness continued to increase. All in the Family, a popular and controversial sitcom, tackled topics such as prejudice, social conservatism, and the rise of ethnic minorities. Speaking through parody, the weekly TV show undertook activism, bigotry, and social injustice. “Archie,” the main character was white. His neighbors were Black. Week after week, humor was mixed with bold and targeted accounts of what was going on in the world through clever sarcasm and ridicule. It represented the changing culture that was fueled by social unrest.
Our nights were spent around a blazing campfire while strong voices sang in various tenors. The sound of guitars and folk songs filled the air. The hootenannies were a sign of the times. The archeological students spoke animatedly of granite rocks, quartz, and colored stones, while we sat under the lamplight of the moon, and a sky dotted with glistening, spangled stars. Those studying to be educators or social workers spoke of diversity, disparity, and distrust. The geology instructor, while patting and stroking his German Shepherd’s blue-sable fir talked about natural rock formation. There was no one to talk to about emergency surgeries, fractured bones, or pending death. I was a guest of the geology department and those who were reflecting on the erosion of the world.
Each night, it seemed the salty sea breeze was feathered by a mature and pleasant swirl of leaping motion. A chorus of Bob Dylan’s protest song that posed controversial rhetorical questions about peace and freedom, rang out night after night while the guitarist strummed the notes with his worn guitar.
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must the white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they are forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind…
Equally philosophical was Woodie Guthrie’s response to the song God bless America, which we sang softly while looking at the outer edges of sudsy foam through a hypnotizing blaze. Addressing inclusion and equality, the song, re-popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary, echoed the American ideal through vivid imagery.
“This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island.
From the Redwood Forrest,
To the gulf stream waters,
This land is made for you and me.”
I still smile when I think about the night the guitarist asked if there were any special requests. My young five-year-old son, with a voice, confident and eager, spoke up loudly and asked the young man if he knew how to play Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. A mixed chorus of varied ages and tones rang out with animated fervor and heartfelt laughter.
My oh my what a wonderful day.
Plenty of sunshine headed my way,
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-a dee-ay.”
The song, associated with Uncle Remus, a kindly former slave, is connected to a tale of the trickster, Br’er Rabbit, who eluded captivity and danger. Br’er Rabbit outsmarted his predators, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear, time after time. Walt Disney made up the phrase Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-a-Dee-ay. Members of our group sang in concert, and the light and airy lyrics filled the air. At that time, we did not think about slavery or the subtle nuances it may have represented. Years later, I learned, Disney dissociated from the song.
Cliffs and waterfalls.
The sound of a woodpecker.
Giant Sequoia groves.
Uneven lines of fickle pines.
The waning of the ocean’s floor.
The texture of soft grey urchins.
The energy of the cosmos.
Waiting for sunset.
Waking at sunrise.
The cold smell of the sea.
Days spent in the warmth of daylight…
The continually unfolding process called memory, and things remembered, sometimes strong, and sometimes faint, can change with time. What we call to mind though, is seen through a colorful sketch of a greater story.
I have never again slept in a sleeping bag or braved the outdoors in the same way. Today, my idea of camping is the Holiday Inn. My reflections, and details of the past, are an album of personal experience, marvel, and mental miracles that I hold onto and treasure. Reflections of those trips have merged and when I think of one trip, I cannot help but think of the other. Maybe because they include important moments in time, or maybe because they are a hybrid of the past, mixed with love.
On the last day of our San Felipe trip, I was lured by the puff-like clouds that looked hand-drawn in the shape of parachutes. They were so prominent; I remember thinking I could reach out and catch one, wanting to spin it around in circles over my head. I shouted out with anticipation and the promise of tomorrow’s wind-up journey. I looked out at the swirl of uneven waves, under a sky that seemed air-brushed in light blue, with pale red veins, and penciled threads of yellow streaks. I knew, with my soon-to-be graduation, and the anticipation of obtaining my nursing license, I was stepping into the rest of my life and a changing world.
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