Pumpkin Spice is an aspiring writer trying to complete (or make any progress whatsoever) on a novel while working the nine to five. She loves babies, being creative and/or wasting time with her twin Laura and friend Mary, working out and of course, writing.
When I think of vacation in terms of my childhood, I think first of a white house in Rhode Island where I spent snippets of every summer. I remember my time there mostly as a scattering of pieces, tiny (meaningless) moments that stay with me as part of a much hazier whole.
Until the early 2000s, Rhode Island was a sure thing, a joyful constant, and it never occurred to me that it might not always be that way. It’s been over half a decade since I’ve been there, but I still feel alarmed when I realize I can’t grasp vivid, meaningful memories of those Rhode Island days. Here, I try to piece together a few bits that I can.
What I do still remember are certain landmarks of the three-hour drive. In particular, I remember the restaurant that looked like Grandma’s large, round, orange and brown earrings, where we always got chocolate chip pancakes (it closed during the last few years), as well as the little port full of little boats and ducks to feed, a clear sign we were almost there. After the last familiar turn, the house on the corner in Westerly would appear slightly uphill. The reason we came was inside this house.
Dorcas Van Horn, our great grandmother’s little sister, whom we all called Aunt Dorc, was a woman important to my childhood despite our relationship consisting of fleeting moments between beaches and restaurants. I knew her from the time she was in her late 70s until she was in her mid-90s as a fashionable, energetic and one-of-a-kind woman.
Picturing her, I see her in large pearl earrings and large rimmed glasses with bits of red left in her hair. I remember her as tall and willowy, and in her movements and her style, I feel she combined the grace of a star from Hollywood’s Golden Age with brassy, at times more masculine manners and sense of humor.
An essential part of these trips to Aunt Dorc’s was Misquamicut Beach, where she would be sure to be the driver so we’d get a senior discount. When there were too many of us for one car, I remember following Aunt Dorc as she drove fast and furious ahead of us, leading a friend we’d brought along to sing, “Little old lady from Pasadena, go, Granny, go! Go, Granny, go!” Ah, the sense of pride I felt over that one.
Once at the beach, Aunt Dorc never came onto the sand (my grandmother says she never went in the water), but would sit on a bench near the showers, watching from the shade of her hat. We would play in the waves until our skin stung with salt, with what seemed like hundreds or seagulls looping in the air.
Back at Aunt Dorc’s house, we spent the most of our time on the second floor, made up of four bedrooms: the master, the yellow room, the green room and the blue and red room. I’m not sure if anyone else called them that but me. I remember the master, where Aunt Dorc slept, as seeming pink to me, but I’m not sure if it actually was. My sister and I would spy on the neighbors across the street (they rarely did anything interesting) or marvel in the cable TV, watching “Pop Up Video” and “Clarissa Explains It All.” Despite the yellow room’s old toys, the red and blue room was a favorite, and our choice of location for the toilet paper time capsule we hid under the rug.
I have a few more memories — a shoebox of tiny wooden cars and buildings, chicken nuggets shaped like fish, the child-size pathway leading through the bushes wrapped around the garage. The spottiness of my memories worry me, because I still feel such a strong attachment to them.
It was in the mid-2000s that Aunt Dorc began developing dementia. I don’t remember our last trip to Rhode Island — the real Rhode Island, not the trip after Aunt Dorc’s son sold her house, and when Aunt Dorc didn’t remember me. Since Aunt Dorc died in 2007, I’m not sure we’ll ever go back again, at least not as a family. My mother has said it would be too painful to go knowing Aunt Dorc wouldn’t be there. I agree it wouldn’t be the same.
Still, I do long to go back, to mourn the additions the new owners have made on the house, to return to the beach, to think of Aunt Dorc and miss her despite my childhood shyness, and to bring part of her and Rhode Island into my present.
Aunt Dorc and her second husband, Mike, who she married in her late eighties or early nineties!
My twin and I — not completely sure which is which — at Misquamicut Beach.
More of my twin and I at Misquamicut! Not sure who’s sitting on the rock.
My twin posing on a rock — I was hoping this was a picture of me, but upon closer inspection, I think it’s her!
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White House is part of our Summer Series.