On Friday afternoon I got in my car and drove 120 miles north to one of my favorite places in the world, Ventura, California.
Ventura is the city where we vacationed every summer of my childhood. We stayed in my great-aunt’s beach house every year until I was in college. We packed aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and sometimes friends into that house, sometimes sleeping 4 or 5 to a room if necessary.
In the early mornings we walked on the beach and then to the local donut store through the secret hole in the wall near the liquor store. We stayed up late playing blitz, sometimes for quarters and sometimes for the candies my grandma bought at the grocery store next to the donut shop. Each day we walked down the street to the sandy stairs and up to the beach to build sand castles, to boogey board.
Because we were staying in my great aunt’s house for a really discounted price (they rented it out to people in the summer), we were told we had to conserve resources. So this meant when we crawled back from the beach after a long day of boogey boarding, we had to shower both with another cousin (of the same gender and general age) AND in the outdoor (though fenced off) shower. That shower presented both the greatest challenge and the greatest humor each summer.
When my older sister and cousin were showering, another cousin and I would turn on all the hot water in the house, so they only had cold (yea, not so good with the conservation). In turn, during our shower they would throw buckets of ice water over the fence on us. There was one time that someone, I’m honestly not sure who, threw a bucket of cold water on my sister and cousin and as retaliation my cousin came running out, completely naked, with the hose. And in the process soaked my grandma completely and put out her cigarette. I will never, ever forget the look on my grandma’s face as she sat there, dripping wet, while the rest of us watched behind the sliding glass door.
In the years since those days, my great-aunt and great-uncle have remodeled the house and now live in it full time, so we no longer stay there as a family, but we do visit whenever we’re in town. On Saturday we stopped by for a spaghetti dinner and for reminiscing.
It was the first time I’d really been in the house in years and I couldn’t believe how much it reminded me of my childhood. I remembered the showers, the bunk beds, all those years of sharing rooms, of bringing tape decks and blasting “Manic Monday” and dancing along. There are so many memories wrapped up in that house, in that city. It makes me feel both at home and melancholy for the experiences of my childhood. For my grandma, who isn’t here anymore.
This year it was just a small group of us and I realized, sadly, that the cousins who came along (ages 9, 7 and 2) never met or knew their grandma and sadly, their other grandma has a fairly rapid course of Alzheimer’s. They are living a completely different childhood than I did, with my mom filling much of the grandma void, and with a different grandpa than I knew. A slower one, but a more present one. One who comes to their home once a week and makes pancakes. One who babysits during nap time and whose name (Papa) the kids mastered before almost any other.
Just being there, seeing that beach through the eyes of these kids takes me back to when I was their age. When we had a week of care free time to be kids. To be a family. And though it’s not the same, I’m glad that they can have a taste of the summers in Ventura that I got to experience.
On Saturday my 7 year old cousin Mary looked at me and said, “Katie, how did they put all my favorite places in the world in Ventura?” And I just looked at her and smiled. Because I don’t know.
But somehow they put all my favorite places there too.