Around the Island

Jenifer’s Journal: Nineteen

All nature is but art, unknown to thee:

All chance, direction, which thou canst not see:

All discord, harmony not understood;

All partial evil, universal good. — Alexander Pope

This is my 19th Jenifer’s Journal column — but who’s counting? — and heading into the shank of the season, it’s put me in mind of my 19th summer.

Oh, baby.

Whether I remember it accurately or not, who knows, but my memory has designated it as “the” summer of my youth, maybe because, at 19, I believed the prevailing hippie wisdom that I only had a few good years left. Anyway, my inaugural salvo into the season involved breaking down on the Northern State Parkway on my way to a weekend on Shelter Island in my first car (a tiny Fiat of indeterminate age painted Earl Scheib’s “Cherry Red,” $29.95) which I blithely abandoned when offered a ride the rest of the way by the two not-unattractive young men who were the first to come to my aid.

They were on their way to Mattituck, they said, but they’d be happy to get me to the Island, hop in (who could say no to such an invitation?) Sounds like an episode for Dateline now, but, turns out, we all spent the night and the whole hilarious, hectic weekend on Shelter Island in an already-full house with my parents, my brothers and their friends.

That entire summer shuttling back and forth, living for weekends while trudging through the work week at my parents’ store? Wild times. The Chequit was the Mecca where those wild times grew, with music blaring, glass breaking, bell bottoms and bare midriffs and the promise of summer love fairly bursting from every corner. The only thing better than one summer love was two. My first, chronologically, was a be-speckled intellectual who would try, and fail, to teach me how to slalom water ski. The other was the owner of a British Racing Green Austin Healey (the true object of my affection), which, after knowing me 90 minutes, that crazy boy let me drive to Silver Beach mostly in overdrive at 1:30 a.m. 

There were those times waking up with the sun, having spent the night on the beach, and the infamous launching of my mother’s Valiant into West Neck Harbor. In my defense, having been born without a sense of direction, it was a near miracle that if there’d only been a bridge between Montclair Colony and Silver Beach, I would’ve made it home in two minutes. Those were some milder escapades. What a summer. In retrospect, hair-raising.

Maybe I had a premonition that the “wild times” wouldn’t last for long. Sure enough, three years later I was married, two years later I had a baby, and then another, and then poof, by the summer of 1974 I was a single parent. Now, that’s hair-raising. 

Maybe it was a tacit indictment of my parent’s laissez-faire parenting style that I became one of those helicopter types, trying to act cool and casual while being hyper-vigilant about my kids’ every move. As they grew into their teens, I thought I knew where they were going and who they were with, but not always. Turns out, that throughout high school and college, for all my well-intentioned uber-attentiveness, my kids still had their share of scary “wild times,” issues and problems, too.

Since they’ve married and become parents themselves, more than once they’ve taken me to task for my “parenting style,” and I’ve remembered those times I dragged my mother down Memory Lane with me and how she would say, “I did the best I could.”  It always sounded pretty lame.

Today my older granddaughter — tall and beautiful as a Sequoia, an artist who can pitch a mad-fast softball — is arriving on the Jitney with her friend to spend the week with me.  She’s turning 15 next month and her big brother — tall, handsome, crazy for physics, who’ll be a captain of his ski team next year — just turned 17 in June. All things being equal, they’ll continue hurtling toward 19 themselves, having their own “wild times.” 

Knowing what I know, that’s a scary thought, but now I also know something that I never could’ve known back in 1966: My children, those stubborn, sneaky rebels, and the men they would marry, would turn out to be such good parents of such, so far, great kids, just by doing the “best they could.” 

Like me; like my parents, I guess.

There are no guarantees (write that down). It’s hard enough to grow tomatoes let alone human beings, so there’s no telling how anything will turn out, really. That now I, a writer, would be writing a piece about my 19th summer for my weekly column?