How my siblings and I looked forward to butterfly-blue-sky summers when we would go to visit our cousins. The lure of the sea and endless play-filled days beckoned and made the elbow poking and constant brother-made car engine noises bearable. Eventually the two revving four-strokes would succumb to the power of the real car and sleep, and my sister would nod her head on my shoulder. I would stay awake to feast on every flickering view framed by our old car's window.
The road was unpaved gravel. It slithered and wound its way round the hills and cliffs. Sometimes our wheels dislodged stones that slipped and bounced down the sheer rock face to the sea.
Brave wind-swept trees mountain-climbed all the way down to the ocean, where the sea spandexed to the sky. Stretched before us were the regal, glittering waves.
Still higher we climbed, worming our way round the wind-scarred hills that looked like huge knees clad in skirts of green trimmed in cream at the sandy petticoat beaches.
They looked that way from above but bare feet told a different tale when our feet were scraped on the dead-bone driftwood that lay wrecked and heaped on the stony shore.
Dad would yell, "We're nearly there," interrupting a chorus of, "She'll-be-coming-round-the-mountain." That meant we had reached the bridge. The “temporary” bridge had been flung over the river estuary during World War II. It clanked as our car drove over it. I held my breath until we were free of the metal web that suspended us too high, over the fast racing river.
The river often flooded. When it did, the open-mouthed sea would swallow huge gulps of yellow brown silt. Several trees were beavered across the ribbons of water below. How undignified they looked with their arms and legs flung everywhere.
As the fingers of light slipped off the hills, the darkness rolled in. The small community had no electricity. So there were no streetlights. Only odd yellow lamp-lit windows winking in the distance interrupted the oncoming darkness.
Aunty had risen at five that morning to stoke the wood fire. There was a roast dinner waiting and a chocolate cake. The food tasted wonderful, as if we were eating outdoors. A generator out back, beating its rhythm, lit the house and powered Uncle John's stereo. He loved musicals, and we all sang after dinner surrounded by the Gauguin’s smiling Polynesian maidens.
We loved being with our cousins. There were four of us to match their four. Finally we were cocooned in sleeping bags wherever there was room, dreaming of going to the beach the next day.
How we loved to ride bare back on smooth driftwood horses. The boys commanded pirate ship logs and only left them when the blue sea beckoned to us to swim in her. Uncle would tie his towel on his head and take us to the best swimming hole. We ducklinged after him to swim there and splash dive from the rocks.
Back at the house we climbed the cliffs behind the school. It was great to have a whole playground to play in, but hopscotch lines were boundaries, and we were wild things. We climbed the cliffs until we felt the tangy salt wind comb through our hair. Wildly, we ran pretending to be Red Indians war whooping over the grassy hills. Always our parents would hold hands to their brows to scout for us on the horizon.
Even when rain pelted against the windows and smudged the sky charcoal-gray, we loved it there because in the hall was a chalkboard wall where we created countless worlds, even red skied worlds with blue grass. Best of all, to me, there were shelves and shelves of books. I ran my hand over them in awe, then pried one away from its neighbors and, there in a cushioned corner, I would plunge into a new world. Those books watered my mind's garden.
All too soon our summer evaporated like steam on a hot road, and we had to go back to school. But nothing could take away what we learned while Aunty stoked the wood stove and the sea constantly sang to the rocky shore.
copyright © 2014
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.