Under the Boardwalk

By Susan DeBow

Under the Boardwalk

I just finished reading a book about a woman and man and their two children who moved to Italy for a year. Currently, I am reading a book about a divorced woman whose long-term relationship with a man has ended, and she sets out in her car to travel across Canada to the Yukon, sleeping in her tent and communing with nature along the way.

What is it about travel that makes us see ourselves more clearly? Why does it sometimes take a trip half way around the world to allow ourselves to discover who we are? There are those who travel to see sights, the tower in Pisa lean, the Eiffel Tower spangle at night, the pyramids of Egypt, the Crown Jewels of England, without a thought of changing themselves or their relationships. They travel to “see,” not to “feel.”

From the time I was a child, I remember our annual vacations. I can see my sisters and mother, all of us dressed in Bermuda shorts and sunglasses whose corners pinched tightly upwards, standing in the parking lot of Meramec Caverns, Jesse James’ hideout. I see myself standing on the tip of the Grand Canyon, holding my mother’s hand, watching my sisters inch closer to the edge, being afraid they would fall off. And I can’t forget the Chinese restaurant in Hollywood where two waiters spit Chinese words back in forth in what was obviously an intense argument. Mother was nervous. I thought, “How cool is this? Maybe they will deck each other.”

We traveled from sight to sight on our way to visit. That is what vacations were. No time for introspection as we barreled down the highway arguing about who was in whose space.

I was a sightseer then, a passenger: A passenger in my own life that was directed by parental expectations and my reactions to parental behavior.

But as I entered high school, alcohol became a big part of my dad’s journey, while depression pushed my mother into her own world, farther away from mine. My sisters had moved on and away with their own lives.

I had no recourse but to be a passenger in my parents’ lives. And as they dealt with their struggles, which I was told not to speak of to anyone, I internalized what was playing out in front of me. This was traveling of a different sort. It was traveling down a road that would later take traveling to another part of the world to get over.

My mother had wanted to go to Europe before Europe became a mainstream destination. My father had no interest in Europe, having memories from World War II of stinking, decaying horses in the road, the destruction of buildings and people. Even when one of my sisters lived in Scotland for three years, my parents stayed in Ohio.

One year, I was taken on a family vacation in a shrunken family. My sisters were old enough to stay home. I wasn’t. In the motel room in Washington DC, Mother argued with Dad about going sightseeing. He didn’t want to go as he had been there and done that. Mother put me in the car and immediately went down a one-way street – the wrong way.

Dad’s mood lightened when we ate at a famous restaurant in Baltimore, Hausner’s, that was known for its nude painting collection in the bar, which was on the way to the men’s bathroom. My dad must have had a urinary tract infection because he danced himself to the bathroom numerous times that evening.

Mother was fine because Hausner’s had a chocolate cream pie that she would have given me away for. Life was good for a few moments that evening since Dad allowed Mom to buy a chocolate cream pie to take with us. The good humor didn’t last as whatever my mother ate was seeking revenge. She had to go. I mean SHE HAD TO GO! We were on a freeway. I can still see myself in the backseat doing the butt-cheek-tighten up, as the tensions in the front seat got higher. Dad couldn’t find an exit. “Henry, I have to go, NOW!” We were going 80 down that highway looking for an exit. I feared the immediate future.

An illegal U-turn got us to an exit before the marriage hit the fan.

The next day, I accidentally sat on the chocolate pie.

Mother getting angry at Virginia Beach and refusing to go eat dinner at 10:30 pm capped off the next night. Dad and I found a diner along the main drag. A few sailors sat in a booth and looked my ironing board twelve-year-old body over as we walked in. When the waitress came over, not appearing too thrilled at our arrival, as closing time was near, my dad said, “What is your vegetable of the day?”

The waitress looked as though she would like to turn Dad into a breakfast omelet.

“The steamer’s shut off for the night,” she said. “Under the Boardwalk” played on the jukebox.

Those were the times in my life before I knew that travel could alter my interior. That it could make me see a world and myself differently.

After we had children, we began going on some vacations. We never had money, so the trips were not to Europe or far-flung places. Like my

parents’ trips, they often involved stops at relatives.

Up until the point I went alone to Ireland, all I knew was that travel was to see things…not change things. I didn’t know that travel could bring change into my life, open up my soul and help me find my voice.

I never would have known what these women who have traveled to Italy, ventured to the Yukon and Paris and Bali, were talking about if I had not read a book that made me have to travel to Ireland, not in search of shamrocks or forty shades of green or the Blarney stone, but in search of the voice of a woman who was raised in Ohio, whose real voice had never been heard.

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at www.ohiowritergirl.com If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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One Response to “Under the Boardwalk”

  1. Susan, your essay was brilliant! Not an ounce of fluff! (Love a essay that has some real meat in it). Will look forward to more. Cecelia

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