July, she will fly. And give no warning of her flight. – Paul Simon, April Come She Will
“I can’t hear, May.” My grandfather scolded my grandmother as he tuned the radio to the daily marine forecast. My ears opened before my eyes did. It was always the same routine: My grandmother quietly asking my grandfather about the work lined up in the boatyard that day, while my grandfather adjusted the radio until, barely audible through the static, he honed in on an announcer hypnotically reading words off a page. They floated up to the sleeping loft: Visibility more than five nautical miles. West Northwest Winds at 10-15 knots, diminishing to 10 in the afternoon. Wave height 2-3 feet. Sea surface temperature 70.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Velocity. Small craft advisories. Tides. It was like eavesdropping on an “adults-only” conversation, but there wasn’t any useful content I could use as collateral to bribe favors from my brother, Gary, who was likely still asleep on the opposite end of the loft. We were separated as far as possible to minimize bed-time disturbances; two years older, he had the privilege of staying up 30 minutes later than me.
It was July. Any July. The beginning and end of summer in New England. It was the month that my grandparents, who lived on a saltwater pond, connected by inlet to Little Peconic Bay on Long Island’s South Fork, gave my parents and sister a break from my brother and me. It was the month, we told our friends, “We are going to the country.”
July had routine: the annual North Sea Fireman’s Carnival, riding to the dump in the back of my grandfather’s beige and white pick-up, Nana’s rice pudding, and Schwenk’s milk, plugged with cream, delivered to the backdoor. We fought for privacy in the outdoor shower and took turns pumping water from the spring-fed well. Boats. There were boats with oars, sails and motors. There were the things we could count on like the daily marine forecast, and there were things that would change like our height, so diligently recorded by our grandmother on the wall of her tiny kitchen.
There would be so many Southampton summers, until there weren’t. When did Schwenk’s stop delivering milk? When did we coax the last drop of water from the rusty hand-pump? When did our heights plateau? When did jobs get in the way of Julys?
Our grandparents followed our examples. They flew the coup, moving to Florida where summer prevailed. Not beholden to our fondest memories, the sleepy bay-side landscape of our youth transformed to vineyards, horse farms and large estates.
Untethered things change. Change is growth, and growth is good. Right? No matter how far south I have moved to extend summer, July still flies, leaving longing in her wake.