Friday, July 16, 2010

Blueberry Sacrament

Blueberry crisp is like a summertime Michigan tea ceremony. “Eating dessert” is almost secondary to the simple process that honors a grandmother's recipe, kids hovering at the kitchen door in anticipation. It is a ritual, a sacrament that blesses the summer.

Conscious of the cold clear water running through your fingers and over the fat berries you hand-picked at DeGrandchamps a few hours ago. You're aware as your mouth waters, involuntary, as you squeeze the lemon. You're present to the texture as you knead the oats and butter and cinnamon. You peer with expectation through the oven window as the blueberries overcome their selfishness and give themselves over to marry with the buttery crumbles. Vanilla ice cream sits on the counter to soften.

It has been nearly a decade since you've been in these wooded dunes where your family spent their summers. As you enter Palisades Park, just this side of South Haven, you drive the narrow sandy roads, winding closer and farther and closer to an inland sea and your wife asks "what do you remember?"

The memories awaken and rise and come into focus. The memories of a 10-year-old, of a 16-year-old, from a 25-year-old. And still some memories that will only come tomorrow.

The cooling and the slowing of time as you leave the Blue Star Highway and turn west to enter the shaded and hard-packed sand roads that meander through the park. The giddy hope of adventure and what you might get away with this summer, what girl might let you kiss her this summer. Being absolved of any need or duty to wear shoes.

Knotty pine panels and candles and last year’s magazines and the woodsy smell of a cottage, yet incomplete without the smell of bacon and sunscreen and wet beach towels and sweaty kids and sand, which is what you bring. A jigsaw puzzle takes a lazy week to coalesce, a piece here and a piece there. No hurry.

A trip into South Haven for a burger at Clementine’s or shrimp tacos at The Idler, the trade-off being that you must, for a time, leave the quiet and the refuge of this place.

Newspapers are valued not so much for their news, but for their crosswords and for their usefulness in starting a beach fire after sundown. Kids roam freely in the woods and dunes and beaches while parents play tennis, and just be back in time for dinner.

Wondering how many tanned and bikini-clad girlfriends Kelli McDonough will be bringing up to her dad’s cottage this summer.

Running the Sugar Bowl dunes in a heated contest of Capture the Flag, followed by a trip into town to restock burger buns and cereal and hotdogs and gallons of milk from the IGA.

Beach grass sawing amiable at your calves as you take the boardwalk toward the Brandywine beach.

The quiet lap of Lake Michigan, the distant screech of gulls, and beach umbrellas flapping in the breeze. Coolers full of Old Style and Leinenkugel's, dipping in to reholster a cold one into a foam koozie, usually at chapter breaks in a paperback beach novel. Kids drifting the lake on inflatable plastic rings, returning to dig holes, they think, to China, throwing handfuls of sand against the sound of childlike laughter on the air. Small sailboats hugging the shore, a yellow sunfish or orange swordfish on the sail. Toward the horizon, an ore ship steams south to the mills near Gary.

Popcorn and a Disney movie with the other kids at the clubhouse up on the hill.

Testing the stairs in Mooney’s cottage, surreptitiously identifying the squeaky planks, planning a stealthy and unauthorized midnight egress to rejoin your friends on the beach later, post-curfew.

The old-time soda bar, ceiling painted in red and white stripes like an awning, high-school kids working their summer jobs dishing out rocky road and blue moon ice cream, burgers and dogs and fries served in plastic baskets and wax paper, bells dinging as a barefoot and shirtless kid at eye level with a pinball machine slaps away at the paddles.

A pony keg next to a beach fire, a bottle of wine passed around and someone will have a guitar and know the chords to “Hotel California.” A cigar later on the screened porch with your brothers, a ceiling fan stirring the night air. A cottage that awakens slowly the next morning, the first adult in the kitchen to start the first pot of coffee and maybe put away last night’s dishes, unspoken.

Families making evening pilgrimages to beaches and dune tops as if strolling to church, sunset an event on which to remark and to savor, like a Tabor Hill pinot rolled across your tongue.

Your brother said you can’t really describe the feeling of summer here on these shores. You're not quite sure that’s true.


Hank Nuwer said...

Comfortable prose. Wanted more as I finished. Relished it all.

Joe said...

Hanker... glad you liked. Thanks for taking a look. joe

Dad said...

I think you have captured the essence of PPCC - and more! Brings back a lot of the same memories for me.

Justin said...

Very well captured summertime in Michigan! Fabulous!

Joe said...

Dad: Thanks for giving that time to us as kids.

Justin: Northern or southern, it's still Michigan, yeah?

LA said...

Ahhh. Makes me want to be intentional about finding time and space for my little guy to create such memories in his life.

John said...

Joe - magically captured magic... Made blurry memories vivid. Thanks! John

Clayton said...

Send it out. Don't be a hog and save it just for us. Engage a stranger's mind. Good work, Joe. Pass it on.

Ashley said...

Joe-This is fabulous! I'm not just impressed with your writing, I'm impressed with your ability to remember it all in the first place. Wow! And I agree-this piece should be published!!!

Joe said...

LA: I'm sure you doing it without realizing that you are.

John: Good memories, yeah? Steve reminded my about rocksalt and hand-cranked ice-cream.

Clay: I can't have you thinking I'm selfish, now can I?

Ashley: Thanks for the nice comments. I may just send this one out.

Sarah said...

So many great details here, Joe. The mouth-watering dessert, for one. And for some reason, "last year's magazines" was really compelling to me. A detail that shows time, place, and relevance/importance. Well done! Definitely send it out.

Paul Berg said...

Nice. Really nice, Joe.

Bug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bug said...

Very nice Joe! Thanks for sharing. -Keri Poi