Discovering the Rebel at the Beach
This essay is part of the Beach Week series on the Tiki Tiki, stories by Latina writers on La Playa.
My parents always seemed to be from two different worlds and the older I got, the more I was surprised they ended up together. Both born in Puerto Rico, my parents came to New York in the early 1950s. My mother grew up in Chelsea and my father grew up in The Bronx.
My mother was the serious one, the strict one, the screamer and ear puller. My father was the permissive one, the drinker, the dancer and laugher. My mother was the rule follower; my father was the rebel. My father loved the rhythmic sounds of Orchard Beach, while my mother longed for the panoramic sights of Coney Island. My parents compromised on everything, including where we spent our summer days.
These were the years before my father learned how to drive and we made these weekend outings to Coney Island or Orchard Beach by public transportation. It wasn’t often we ventured out as a family. Saturdays at the beach was our only ritual.
My father went to the bakery to buy fresh bread. My mother filled the cooler with ham and cheese sandwiches, sodas for us, and a few beers for my father. My brother and I would sit at the table eating Corn Flakes, fighting about stuff I can’t remember.
Away from the household distractions of dishes, laundry and television, it was the summer of 1983 when I first saw my parents as people. I was 8-years-old and beginning to take interest in adult conversation. And, because I was to be within my mother’s reach, the beach was the one place where I had the opportunity to listen without the threat of being sent to another room.
After swallowing a soggy sandwich and gulping down an ice-cold soda, all I wanted to do was run back into the water. Instead, I sat in the sand, forced to wait a whole hour for my food to digest and listen to my parents reminisce about their youth.
They talked about how they met, the people they knew and the places they went. They spent most days and nights either arguing or ignoring each other, to see them laughing together and enjoying each other’s company was nice.
I was never shocked by the stories my father told. Somehow, they made sense to me. It was my mother that surprised me that Saturday afternoon I stared at the boardwalk in Brooklyn, listening for the faint screams of Cyclone riders, watching the cars of the Wonder Wheel swaying slowly.
“What’s that thing?” I asked, pointing to the rusty red tower looming in the distance. I had seen it for years but never bothered to ask.
“That’s the parachute, it’s an old ride.” My mother said. She smiled as she said it, as if remembering a secret.
“How do you ride it?”
My mother explained that riders were hoisted up in a canvas seat – almost like a swing – to the top and then dropped to the ground, their fall slowed down by the parachute.
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“It was fun.”
Terrified of heights, it didn’t seem like much fun to me. “Did you ride it?”
My mother laughed, “Oh sure, lots of times.”
Immediately I looked to my father and asked if he went on the parachute too. He simply shook his head. I thought back to our other family outings – to the Statue of Liberty. We climbed to the crown, while my father waited below.
I thought of our trips to the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. He took the elevator ride to the top with us but never dared to look down.
It was my mother who planned our day trips. She was the adventurer who wanted to explore all that the City had to offer; while my father was content staying home. It was always my mother who wanted to ride the Wonder Wheel. It was my mother who loved the views from the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center and Empire State Building. She could stay up there for hours, looking out from every angle, pointing things out in the distance.
My mother, the woman who consistently proceeded with caution, had once been lifted high in the sky in a swing and dropped to the ground. My mother was the one who didn’t get scared when the Wonder Wheel stopped at the tippy top, the car swinging back and forth. My mother, the woman who pressed her nose to the window of the top floor of the World Trade Center, straining to see out as far as she could, was a rebel in her own right.
I had it all wrong; my mother was the one who lived her life on the edge, while my father watched from the sidelines. My mother was more than a mother; she was a woman with a wild side. And though she raised me to follow the rules, she also wanted me to be brave enough to create my own.
Lisa Quinones-Fontanez is a secretary by day, MFA Creative Writing CCNY student/blogger by night and Mommy round the clock. Lisa also is the author of AutismWonderland. Her writing has been featured in Pot Luck Magazine, Being Latino and BronxMama.