Maureen sat behind her mother in the back of the boat-like Plymouth Fury with her brothers. David, two-and-a-half years her senior sat at the window behind their father, who was driving. Three-year-old Chris, the youngest and smallest was consigned to the middle where the uncomfortable bump gave his car seat a bit of a boost.
There was a radio in the car, but whenever the dad was driving (like now) it was turned off. He did not like distractions when he drove. The Plymouth, a 1957 white whale of a car, had push buttons instead of a shifting stick, all very modern and sleek. The dashboard was metal, painted a matte black, which made the silver knobs of the radio all the more shiny and enticing.
They were driving upstate to the Palenville mountain house the mother's family owned. She had spend all her youthful summers there, in the big clapboard house with no telephone, no heat and no indoor bathroom. It had been bought by Maureen's grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant who married his first cousin and had three daughters, two years apart from each other. Emilio Spaletta was proud that he could afford to send his family to the country, beating Brooklyn's repressive summer heat.
The three daughters continued to come up to the Palenville house with their own offspring in tow, sometimes overlapping their stay with each other so the cousins could play together. The car ride was not particularly long, although to three hot kids sitting on sticky plastic car seats, the three hours seemed much longer. There was no air-conditioning and even with windows cranked all the way down, Maureen felt like she was inside a furnace.
She knew she would see her cousins when they got there and reviewed her feelings about this in her mind to make the time pass more quickly. She would be happy to see Debbie and Andrea, Kenny and even Kathleen, but frowned as she thought about Kathleen's brother Stephen, a carrot-topped terror. Last time he had thrown her new Barbie into the outhouse toilet hole. His angelic cheeks splattered with freckles made his evilness even worse, because his mom, her mom and their Aunt Grazia were suckers for Stephen's charms.
David's head was down, engrossed in his favorite book, The World's Great Stories, by Louis Untermeyer. Chris' car seat was more like a basket. The flimsy straps held him to the seat, but since this was pre-seat belt times, the seat itself was attached to nothing. He was running his toy cars along the edge of his seat frame, making brumming noises and narrating his fantasy, oblivious to either flanking sibling.
The mom was napping in the front, Despite the heat, her window was only cracked open, so as not to disturb her hair. She was the middle sister in her family, considered the goodie goodie. While Grazia and Isabella were smoking cigarettes out their bedroom window and cutting classes as teenagers, Lidia was studying and volunteering at Brooklyn Women's Hospital. Her biggest rebellion was to marry an Irish boy instead of an Italian.
The only sounds were Chris' enthusiastic play narration and the whoosh of cars going the other way on Route 87. Maureen wished she was sitting behind her dad, whose window was all the way down.
She loved going to the summer house. It was big and rambling and smelled of musty cellar. Drinking water came from a pipe in the back where cold delicious mountain spring water flowed constantly. There were deer in the surrounding woods and snakes in the tall grass that was so tough, the kids were sent out with long sickles. Her heart beat faster as they turned onto the dirt driveway and the house came into view. Day lilies and Queen Anne's Lace swayed everywhere, waving "hello and welcome back."
Note: More story to come.