Birds on a Wire

Last night I slept with my windows open for the first time since I moved into this house in October. There is nothing like laying beneath clean, soft sheets, feeling the cool breeze on your face and having the crickets and sounds of night lull you off to sleep.

This morning as I leisurely became aware of my surroundings, my dreams still lingered, and a very vivid memory seeped through, as if it had been marinating all night. I lay under the covers, feeling the breeze, smiling, and listening to the sounds of morning as the memory unfolded, and the childhood movie played out on old, brittle 8mm film behind my eyelids.

It was 1978, I was seven years old on summer vacation in Ocean City, Maryland, with my mom, dad, and brother. We were staying in a condo with family friends, the kind that we called Aunt and Uncle, although there was no blood relation. Aunt Sally and Uncle Dave were there with us, with their two kids, Kathy and Tad. Kathy was about thirteen, and Tad was three, the same age as my brother.

It was that magical time on the beach, the end of the day when most people have left, changed, and perhaps come back out in dry clothes with chairs and coolers to watch the sunset. It was our last night at the beach, and I had been out there all day. I ran in and out of the waves, my white, salty pony tails sticking to my browned skin as my dad wrapped me in an oversized blue and white striped beach towel as I emerged, now shivering in the chill of the late afternoon.

In the perfect light of dusk, under a sherbet sky, I ran up to the top of the beach and sat by the dunes, digging in the sand, when I found the most beautiful fragment of a shell. It was triangle shaped, the bottom was a brilliantly pure purple that faded gradually into a white point at the top. The edges had been tumbled by the ocean, and felt smooth and comforting under my fingertips.

I ran over to show my dad, and he thought it was as cool as I did. He handed me a piece of smooth, green beach glass that he had found, and it was as if I held the two greatest treasures in the world.

We went up to the condo and put on dry clothes. My mother had gotten me a new shirt with a matching scarf. I had begged for it, I thought that scarves were incredibly sophisticated at the time. It was a short-sleeved, light blue tee-shirt, and printed on the front was a telephone wire with little blue birds perched on it, musical notes floating above their heads. The sheer, light blue scarf had the same print on it, and it tied once around my neck. I adored it.

We went out on the patio with the adults, who were enjoying their end of the day happy hour. Aunt Sally and Kathy complimented me on my scarf, and I felt like the prettiest girl in the world. I never felt like that, but in that moment, with my scarf, dry hair blowing in the wind, sun-kissed face and the perfect Maxfield Parrish light of dusk, I felt it all the way to my heart, and my smile beamed.

I stood looking out over the balcony, fingering the purple shell and green beach glass in my pocket, when a gust of wind swept the scarf from around my neck, and as if in slow motion, I watched it float, carried higher and higher by the wind, until it wrapped itself around a distant telephone wire.

I screamed and pointed at it, tears rolling down my cheeks as my mom comforted me. We stood there watching it, hoping that the wind would blow it back down so that we could take the elevator down and try to get it.

As I stood there, eyes transfixed on the light blue fabric waving at me, I noticed two birds sitting on the telephone wire next to it. The scarf itself was in the scene that was printed on it. I found it fascinating, like it was trying to tell me something.

I waited and waited, but the scarf never came down. We all went inside after the sunset, and Kathy offered to curl my hair in attempts of cheering me up. I sat on the chair in our room in front of the mirror as she heated up the curling iron. It was green and white, the kind you would put water in, and push the green knob at the top to release steam through the holes in the wand, like an iron. As she put long spirals in my hair, I opened the top drawer of the bureau and placed my purple shell and green beach glass in there for safekeeping.

The next morning was a blur of suitcases and gathering and rounding everyone up to get out by check out time. As beach chairs were strapped on to the top of the station wagon, I looked up at the telephone wire, and my scarf was waving back at me. I felt as if I was leaving a piece of myself behind.

We all piled in and began the four-hour drive home, and when we finally arrived and I began unpacking my stuff, I remembered the purple shell and the green beach glass, that I had forgotten in the bureau drawer.

To this day, I can recall every detail of that scarf, the shell, and the beach glass as clearly as I can recall the faces of my own children. They are three mystical talismans, transporting me back to that beach, in the orange and purple light of dusk, where my eternally seven-year-old self runs free, wrapped in a blue and white striped towel, in the sweet, salty air of summer.

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26 replies

  1. I love those memories ~ I had a beautiful hat that my uncle got me and we walked along the beach, the wind swept it into the sea and I was so sad to have lost that beautiful hat that I had worn for 10 minutes. But the memory of the day with him and us running into the waves fully clothed to get my new hat and realizing it was futile was worth all of it.

  2. Really beautifully and descriptively written. I have a memory of a necklace that I loved and wore for a day before it was just gone – the feelings you describe just clicked with me.

  3. This is really beautiful. A few thoughts: a) “..under a sherbet sky” is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read; b) scarves are still incredibly sophisticated; c) in the summer of 1976, I was given a red, white and blue satchel (no, not a purse, a very tough and handsome satchel), one of many that the town ladies crocheted for all the kids (I was six at the time) to carry in the parade bicentennial parade. That satchel somehow stuck with me and reminds me of the possibility of a perfect day; of innocence. Thanks for fostering thoughts of my satchel.

    • Dear Satchel,
      a) thank you, I remember thinking the sky looks like sherbet since I was a little kid. b) I still have a penchant for scarves. c) I like that you use the words “very tough” and “crocheted” in the same sentence. That made me laugh. Glad I rekindled a memory for you.

  4. Holy Mackerel Tracy!
    Another beautiful piece of work. I envy your ability to bring the reader immediately into your story and build tension and relief and every other emotion. I have this phantom feeling that there is sand between my toes. You must be a great writer.
    Thank you,
    John

  5. 1. Great writing Tracy.
    2. Scarves were, are, and always will be incredibly sophisticated.
    3. I wish I had a scarf.
    4. Scarf should be spelt scarve, but it’s not.
    5. Spelt doesn’t look right, but it is.
    6. That’s why I spelled it that weigh.
    7. There is no 7.

    • 1. Thank you Bill.
      2. I still have a penchant for them.
      3. What is your address.
      4. Barf should be spelled barve, but it’s not.
      5. Spelt is a grain or something, dork.
      6. That’s wye you spelt it rung.
      7. My name is actually spelled Tra7cy, but the 7 is silent.

  6. Scarves are always cool and sophisticated, hands down. Very enjoyable post.
    This reminds me of my summer memories from when I was young. It’s so ingrained I can almost smell the sunshine.

  7. I spent an entire glorious week at the beach one summer with my neighbors and the thing I remember most is the new fabulously scented clariol shampoo that had just come one the market. Hey it was in the 70’s. I remember we washed our a lot just to try different smells. And we pretty did whatever we wanted because their mom layed out all the time. It was the best week of my life.

  8. I feel like it’s Christmas! I googled “dried apricots stomach problem” (ahem), and came across not only one of the funniest posts I’ve ever read (and one which helped to explain my current stomach mystery…solved), but now I’ve found your blog…and this beautiful piece as well. I can hear the waves, feel the sand. Thank you for your eloquence. And wit!

  9. I can’t get over how good your writing is – that you can remember so much detail and express it so beautifully. I’m sorry you lost your scarf and other momentoes… but they are, as you say,still with you in your memory.

    • You are so kind. I’ve always been fucking wordy as hell, I can take a trip to the gas station and write 1000 words on it no problem. I’m really fun to talk to…

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