Souvenirs

By Lauren Jonik

Souvenirs

The flower calendar sent by the local oil company hung on the kitchen wall right next to the avocado green refrigerator. At ten years old, the sound of my mom tearing off July’s sunflower-filled page brought elation and anxiety. I proclaimed daily boredom, but secretly knew that the summer was going too quickly.

During the final week of August each year, my parents, my younger brother and I would travel south from our suburban Philadelphia home. Another school year beckoned, but first the siren’s call of the Outer Banks had to be answered. Luggage, linens and food filled the brown Buick. My brother and I spent the next eight hours alternating between asking if we were there yet and shoving the bags that sat on the seat between us across a Mason-Dixon Line that only elementary school children could intuit. It was no wonder my parents were ready for a vacation.

We rented a different house every year – each of which had a catchy name like Bayberry Bluff or Sand Castle. In the mid-1980s when we started going as a family, the paved road ended after the town of Duck. Much to my dismay and my parents’ delight, it was possible to find a stretch of beach all to yourself. But, instead of finding new temporary friends to play with for the week, I amused myself by splashing fearlessly in the ocean, reading my Nancy Drew books while sprawled on the makeshift beach blanket and looking for pieces of green sea glass. I was convinced they had to be real emeralds. But, it turned out that the sea had other gifts to offer.

We usually cooked meals at “home,” affording longer beach time and decreased expenses. On one evening, we dined at a local seafood restaurant. While waiting for our food at a wooden table beneath a large plastic marlin decorating the wall, my father distracted me from my observations and daydreams – and from kicking my brother under the table.

“Look out at the sea,” Dad instructed.

“Uh, okay,” I responded, turning my head towards the window. Another day was slipping into gentle darkness. The view of the rhythmic waves was stunning. A light breeze from a ceiling fan tickled my bare arms.

“Memorize this so you can think of it in January. When it is cold and snowy, and you’re outside waiting for the school bus, remember what this looks like,” my dad continued.

I didn’t fully understand in the moment the meaning of what my father was saying. My personal allotment of excitement had already been surpassed by being allowed to order French fries with my dinner and being promised the prospect of chocolate ice cream for dessert. But, five months later, I would.

In the midst of a January snowstorm in Pennsylvania, the cold tore through my bones. My thick coat, hat, gloves and leg warmers were little salvation from the freezing, wet air. “C’mon, c’mon!” I tried to will the school bus to arrive faster. It was already twenty minutes late. Rising up and down on my toes with my hands in my coat pockets, I closed my eyes. Before me, I saw the Atlantic. Snowflakes momentarily were replaced by grains of sand. Something shifted. The world felt a little warmer and brighter.

Twenty-nine years later, I no longer have the pink “Duck, NC” t-shirt with the small white duck wearing sunglasses on the front that I bought with my allowance. The postcards I acquired have long been sent and forgotten. But, I carry with me a different kind of souvenir – the knowledge that our best moments are only a memory away.

About this writer

  • Lauren JonikLauren Jonik is a writer and photographer. She currently is at work on a memoir about coming of age with a chronic illness. Follow her on Twitter @laurenjonik.

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One Response to “Souvenirs”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Loved your story, especially your dad’s advice, “Memorize this so you can remember it in January.

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