In honor of my grandma (Anna) on what would have been her 93rd birthday.
My brother, sister and I used to walk down the beach, toward the distant pier, past the graying bungalows with their tinted glass windows, past the small stretch of beach with mismatched chairs and ominously taut fishing rods, finally reaching the neat monotony of blue and white umbrellas, positioned in a grid as if facing the water in battle. We’d pad up the sandy walk to the Beach Club, feeling conspicuous but blending in with the other damp, sandy kids.
The swelteringly crowded Snack Shack was pitch dark after the blinding sun and sand. It smelled of deep-frying oil and sunscreen. A huge fan hummed wearily somewhere overhead. The ladies at the snack shack never changed. They wore Hawaiian shirts as part of their uniform, but you got the sense that they’d wear them at home, too, the scent of their perfume mingling with eau de hot dog. They glared at us as we approached in line as if daring us to place an order. We used my grandma’s membership number, which was only supposed to cover the fancy restaurant, with its uncomfortable iron chairs and tangled awning of Sea Grape branches. There was something thrilling about giving our fake room number, 1468, and pretending we were guests at the hotel. My heart sped up whenever it was my turn, as if they might suddenly turn off the music and throw us out by our ears into the sand and sun.
While we waited for our food, we wandered past the giant chess set and took turns in the hammock, watching tan, shiny-nailed moms in white visors and lanky boys who really belonged. One of us guarded the food while the other two dove into the teeming pools, swimming around the fake tropical islands and doing handstands in the shallow end.
Then we’d head back, balancing our hot dogs and cheeseburgers, accompanied by the muted rattle of ice in our big Styrofoam cups full of pink, pink lemonade. It was a peaceful walk. Lost in our thoughts, no longer under cover, we’d drag our toes in the wave-washed sand and make up foreign languages together. We walked back past the fishing rods, the big swirling pines, and toward our little beach. My mom always looked up from her book in surprise, as if she’d forgotten she had children. She’d extend a slim arm and receive her order: half iced tea, half lemonade, on the rocks.
As the day waned, our sand ladies with their seaweed-and-shell necklaces lay forgotten. The great Dole barges were mere specs on the horizon, and the shadows of our umbrella were long past keeping us in the shade. I’d think of Anna, moving gracefully through her cool, quiet house. I pictured the sound of my flip-flops on the orange tiles of her sun room, the clink of the ice machine, the patient chime of her library clock. I longed to go home, stamp my feet on the spiky grass, hurriedly shake off my, towel and ring the doorbell. I’d press my nose against the glass and watch her walk toward us, stepping so lightly in her blue Keds and freshly-ironed shirt. “Hi Gang,” she’d say, smiling as she opened the door, “How’s tricks?”
Anna always appreciated beauty more than anyone I know. Toward the end of her life, she began to marvel at the simplest things, like the full moon, a flower in her back yard, or an avocado sandwich. She’d been making them for me my whole life, long before the combination of toasted bread and avocado became inexplicably hip. They always tasted perfect when she made them. In the last year of her life, it was as if she’d never tasted one before. I mashed the avocado with a little mayonnaise and lots of salt, spread it thickly on toast, and brought it to her as she sat in her flowered armchair in the alcove. “Delicious! This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.” She’d exclaim after each bite, shaking her head and looking at me like I’d made her a feast. “Where did you learn how to make this?” “You taught me, Anna,” I’d say, unable to repress a smile.
Anna’s Avocado Sandwich (serves two)
- 1 perfectly ripe avocado
- 2 slices good bread (it doesn’t matter what kind. Bread is just a vehicle for the avocado. Sometimes Anna and I would skip bread all together and just dip crackers.)
- 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise (trust me)
- Lots of sea salt
- A grind of pepper
- Scrape the avocado into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the mayo, and salt to taste. Mash it thoroughly, but don’t be afraid to leave a few chunks
- Toast the bread to your liking. I like it to have a good, loud crunch.
- Spread avocado thickly on toast and sprinkle with more salt and pepper
- Eat with someone you love.