Sirena

This morning, it’s time to dust off those keyboard cobwebs and get some words down. Since my last post, the temperatures in our corner of New Jersey have been cooling on a slow simmer, seasoned with a pinch of chill and a splash of crispness. The daylight hours have a bluer tinge and grow more fleeting with late September’s progression. The trees have started pulling out a few of their fall colors from vacuum-sealed space bags in Mother Nature’s walk-in closet and the crowds no longer flock to the beaches down the shore.

When people think of the fall season, I assume many do not associate it with the beach. I, however, do, and am particularly excited to be reacquainted with fall at the shore this year.

Ever since my mom’s family starting renting the family shore house during the off season for the past I – lost – count – how – many years, I have been nostalgic for the empty beaches that result from the change in season, the expansive shoreline carpeted in cold sand, littered with the treasures of washed ashore sand dollars, backdropped by the dunes’ mountainous terrain, a fortress to hold back the salty tides during storms.

The shallows are warmest now, in early fall, after cooking under the hot sun throughout the summer months. Jelly salps dot the shoreline like sparkling, solid bubbles and the towel and umbrella colonies and impromptu nerf football games have vanished until Memorial Day Weekend. The crowds are gone and peace settles heavy on the sand, adjusting the arms of its Tommy Bahama beach chair until the back is at a comfortable angle.

And once fall is settled on the shore and summer put to rest in a storage bin with its corresponding seasonal items, it is time to allow the crash of the waves and whispering pull of the tide to echo as it reverberates off the dunes. It is time to let the sirenas’ sea song surround you, an intimate audience, in a fluid turned dissonant composition, mystifying and overwhelming in its power.

We Keep Meeting

I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. We were unknowingly introduced by my Nana, back when I was fourteen and spending the summer with her and my Aunt Arlene down the shore, via her suggestion that I might enjoy the works of Maeve Binchy, an Irish author with a great descriptive talent for storytelling. Having tried a couple of pages of one of Ms. Binchy’s books back at fourteen, the title of which evades me now, I decided to occupy my reading time with other titles and authors instead. I slid the works of Maeve Binchy onto a bookshelf in the library in my head to be revisited another time.

Maeve Binchy and I met again in the ladies room at The Bank on College Green in Dublin when I was twenty-three and she was three years passed, a portrait of her hanging on the wall along with portraits of other female, Irish artists. Seeing the portrait tugged the ball chain pull to the light bulb over the bookshelf in my head and to my Nana’s suggestion from nine years earlier. On vacation and out to dinner celebrating the special occasion of Mike and my sixth anniversary of dating, the light bulb extinguished and I continued on with the evening, Maeve Binchy, an all but forgotten apparition haunting the library in my head.

We met again most recently on Friday morning when Mike and I spent an evening visiting with my parents at our extended family’s shore house a bit further down the New Jersey coast from where Mike and I now live. Having helped to manage the house’s fully-stacked, weekly rental schedule during this other-worldy summer, it was rewarding to get to enjoy the house for a night and to relax in the familiar space rather than feel stressed and pressed for time as we often do during five-hour rental “turnovers”.

We stayed in the room that was my Nana’s when she lived in the house, the room that she’d chosen to make her own space for years before she moved to an apartment in Pennsylvania. I’d not slept in the room since before she moved to New Jersey back in 2000, back when it was the original “Cousins’ Room” with two twin beds topped with crocheted, white coverlets – the floor blanketed in dusty rose carpeting.

Even after Nana moved from the house and slept in the “cozy room” downstairs during her visits, her room upstairs was designated for the parents and the West Coast family when they visited, and then for my cousins expecting children. On Thursday, after a summer of muscle, decision making, cleaning schedule communications, logging expenses, ordering and purchasing supplies, and initiating process improvements, I felt we deserved to sleep in Nana’s old room, the nicest room in the house. When Mike asked me on the second floor landing on Thursday night, “Cousins’ room?” I just replied, “Nana’s room.”

It is a strange thing to feel like you’ve grown up so significantly to the point of noticing it over the course of a summer, but I feel that is what has happened during this very strange summer. This is how I came to be comfortable and to feel deserving of sleeping in the best room in the house on Thursday. This is how I came to be reacquainted with Maeve Binchy when I woke up Friday and saw the dusty spine of Quentins resting on the bookshelf table under the center window in Nana’s room that morning.

I spoke with my Nana on Friday and let her know that I had found one of her Maeve Binchy books and let her know that I was going to read it. I told her it was called Quentins. She said, “You read it first and then I’ll read it.” Eager to have something to share with her, I took the book home and began to read it this morning. I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. Once I am acquainted with Ella’s story completely, I will send the book to my Nana, and she will meet her again too, and Ella will soon be a mutual friend or foe of ours; and to find out which, I’ll go back to reading the story.

The Hospitality of Cheese

Any person who has been a guest in our home is likely familiar with being greeted with a hearty, “Welcome!” and a platter or cutting board full of sliced summer sausage, neat columns or concentric circles of Carr’s Table Water Crackers, and fresh-off-the-block slices of Kerry Gold Irish Cheddar. I learned the tried and true hospitality trick of providing immediately accessible snacks for guests by growing up as part of a large extended family who held frequent family gatherings.

Hosting guests is one of my all time favorite activities, likely because I grew up with the fond experiences of being a welcomed guest and learning how to be a host from the happy examples set by my immediate and extended family. These examples just always happened to involve appetizers and plentiful beverages.

When we lived in Williamsburg, we had the fortune of hosting guests frequently. We were not usually the main destination or reason to visit New York for most of our out of town guests. No, we were usually just a stopover for a night after a flight into JFK or Laguardia or a birthday dinner, Broadway show, or holiday party, but it always felt nice to be a stop on their list.

Our railroad style apartment on Union Avenue was full of cozy character and hosted countless guests over the years, some frequent visitors, and some one time only stays. When we first saw the apartment in March of 2015, I was sold immediately, standing in what would be our kitchen for the next five years, a warmth in my heart and a tingle on my skin, not yet knowing how many happy memories were waiting to be made within the confines of its red brick walls, and honey hardwood and rust tile floors.

The brick brownstone with six units was estimated built in 1895 and some of the accents would attest to that estimation. Our large, sunlit bedroom had an old, sealed-off brick fireplace growing up the wall like English ivy and our modern stove was nestled in what used to be a brick kitchen hearth. The light wooden cabinets and laminate-topped peninsula counter added practical function and a homely, cottage appearance to the atmosphere of our space and contradicted the metropolis environment of the bustling city that surrounded us.

Our Union Avenue apartment was a place where guests knew they were welcome to a hearty snack, warm meal, cold beer and red wine in the evening, clean sheets and blankets for a comfortable night’s rest on our turquoise couch, and fresh Brooklyn bagels with a mug of hot tea or coffee in the morning.

Writing about it now makes me miss our old home so much.

We pushed up our move by a week this past March when things started shutting down left and right in the city due to the pandemic. If the pandemic had not happened, we’d have been hosting some of my cousins from California that week and taking daily adventures from a meticulously planned itinerary full of truly New York and Brooklyn experiences, things that would give my cousins memories that were unique to our city while also providing Mike and me a chance to give a proper send-off to our regular neighborhood haunts.

But the pandemic did happen.

My cousins made the decision to cancel their trip after their airline offered them vouchers if they chose to cancel and after I let them know it was probably a good idea to cancel as bars, restaurants, theaters, and visiting with our Nana and our cousin’s months old son became either impossible or too risky.

We ended up moving four days after closing on our condo. We did not really get a chance to linger in our goodbyes with our home of five years before driving away in the Uhaul and car, but maybe that is a good thing. It would have made it so hard to allow that emotion to hit me, for my gaze to linger on the nail holes in the walls where our pictures used to hang, on the shiny rectangle on the floor where our warm, multi-colored, striped, shag area rug had been, and to hear the faint echo of laughter, late night chats, Friendsgiving gatherings, and regalings of recent travels from guests just arrived from the airport.

Five months after moving to our new home, the time has finally come to christen this place as a hub of hospitality. Our pictures hang on new walls now and our turquoise couch is still the same with new neighboring furniture to get to know. We no longer have our long, red brick living room wall and brick fireplace and kitchen hearth, but I’m not ever going to complain about our expansive view of the Atlantic that we get to look upon every day. My parents are coming to visit tomorrow and will be our first overnight guests. With much improved scenery, more space to move around, and an actual guest room with four walls and a door, I have high hopes that this place will live up to the cozy memories of gatherings past, conversations shared, trips planned and discussed, and memories made on Union Avenue.

But first, I must buy some cheese.