Last night we took the golf cart up to the Long Beach marina, which is a pretty typical thing to do up here on the island, even more typical on July 4th weekend. The big fireworks display was planned for last night and since we had been enjoying a streak of picture-perfect, Maine summer sunniness – it was on. The preferred mode of transportation on the island is the golf cart. Not only for fireworks night, but pretty much all the time. That was evident when the entire island turned out for the tenth anniversary parade celebrating the year that Frye Island became a town. The obligatory fire trucks, marching band and local political officials took the lead. Bringing up the rear was a half-mile long complement of decorated golf-carts. Sparkly balloons, red, white and blue streamers and American flags festooned many of the carts but every once in a while, a tiki bar on golf cart wheels would putt-putt by. Or another one with a giant red T-rex planted on the roof. One was quilted. Interspersed in between were kids on bikes, dogs on leashes, babies in strollers and dads with tall, Uncle Sam hats. And one wheelbarrow carrying a (fake) deer lying on its side with the message, “The only good deer is a dead deer”. (No, there aren’t a lot of hunters on the island. Just ladies who like to keep gardens to the delight of the indigenous inhabitants. Yummm…pansies).
My dad had spent the last day and a half cleaning up our golf cart. No, not for the parade. We drove our car to my friend Tracy’s house, conveniently situated on the parade route, for that. No, he was prepping our cart for the trip to Long Beach and the fireworks extravaganza that evening.
We bought the golf cart years ago after we sold the Boston Whaler that came with the cottage. We tried to be boaters, we really did. We had a slip at the little marina, we got one of those enormous inflatable tubes in which you could stuff a bunch of kids and pull it behind the boat at great speeds. We all tried water-skiing, unsuccessfully, and once we took the boat all the way across the lake to have lunch on the other side at a restaurant near one of the waterfront camps. That was a great trip except for the fact that the restaurant didn’t allow its patrons to wear bathing suits. Some of us had thought that wearing a bathing suit in a boat on a lake in the summer, which could be modestly covered up by a pair of shorts once on shore would be acceptable. But no. This lakeside establishment open during July in Maine in proximity to waterfront family campgrounds deemed bathing attire inappropriate. So some of us had to go find a cheap souvenir shop in search of an even cheaper t-shirt to cover up the top of the offending bathing suit.
But …I digress. So, we tried, but boating just wasn’t in us. Off went the Whaler and in came the cart. Now that was a transport that got some use. You could buzz down to the store for a paper, run up to the community center for a ceramics class and get rid of a couple of bags of garbage without disturbing the dust on anyone’s car. When Christopher spent two summers here as an Ice Cream Engineer (he scooped ice cream cones at the stand attached to the little store) the golf cart was his preferred and constant mode of transportation. Even if he wasn’t street legal. That all changed of course once he got a real driver’s license and eventually had a car up here to drive. The golf cart was as neglected as a favorite stuffed animal. Cherished, but not really necessary.
If we “kids” weren’t up here using the cart, my parents usually took the car for their island hopping needs. Why drive the cart when driving the car kept the dust from getting all over you? The golf cart was still hauled out every spring when we opened the cottage, cleaned and gassed up, ready for service only to be cleaned and covered up in the fall and returned to its place in the shed. Without much use in between.
Then, the other day, my dad drove it up to the front of the house. He started futzing around with the lights, cleaning pine needles off the seat and testing the battery. “We’ll take it up to the fireworks”, he announced. My mother and I just looked at each other, mostly thinking, I’m sure, how the three of us could squeeze onto the one two-person bench, but also – who was driving? Over the years, due to complications of his diabetes, my dad’s eyesight has grown more and more compromised. He has pretty much given up driving – but we all know how that makes him feel. But, no matter, because there he was, getting the cart ready for Saturday night like a teenager anticipating his first car-date. A few hours before the scheduled display, he came into the kitchen and lifted the golf-cart key from it’s hook. “I’m just going to take it down the road and back – see how it’s working”, he said. And he was off. I wondered how many hazards there could possibly be in the rutted, rock-strewn dirt road up to the corner and back, but my mom just went about her business, cleaning up the kitchen from lunch, as if taking the cart out for a spin was something my dad did every day.
About six hours later he returned. Or maybe it was six minutes. Either way, I let out my breath, as I didn’t realize I’d been holding it. “All set!”, he said, replacing the key on the hook. I didn’t give it another thought until I heard him shout, “Everyone ready to go?” from outside. I went out to the driveway and there sat my dad, in the cart waiting for us, in the driver’s seat. Just like all those Sunday mornings when we were little and he would go out and start the car as my mom made sure we were all brushed and dressed for Sunday School before shepherding us out behind him.
At the last minute, my mom stayed back. “Something at dinner didn’t agree with me”, she said with her hand on her belly. I don’t think it was nerves at my dad’s being behind the wheel – I just don’t think she wanted to drive all the way to Long Beach marina on my lap. In any case, she begged off, promising to call if she felt better. I took my place on the passenger side. My dad turned the key, kicked off the brake and hit the gas. We were off. Down the driveway – great. Up to the corner – well he had already practiced that one, hadn’t he? Right onto Leisure Lane and the open road. Should I keep my eyes open or squeeze them shut? Leisure Lane winds about a mile from our road to the marina. A dirt mile of sharp turns, gallon-sized pot holes, scattered rocks of varying sizes bordered by boulders, low hanging branches and occasionally, toddlers. The Disney attraction Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride suddenly pops into my head. At first I tried to be a helpful navigator. “Family of six up on the right”, I said. “See it”, my Dad said. “Enormous truck bearing down on us on the left”, I said. “Got it”, he said. Soon, as we took each turn and steered past cars parked along side the road, I realized – we were fine. Compromised eyesight or not, the one thing my Dad has always been is responsible. I knew he wouldn’t do anything he didn’t think he could do, especially if it meant that it might put me – or any one of us – in harm’s way. And we weren’t. We – he – did just fine. We ended up parking as close to the marina as we could possibly get. It didn’t occur to me to feel relieved, but I’ll be he did. We unpacked our folding chairs, made the short walk to the beach and planted them into the sand right by the water. My mom showed up about 20 minutes later – gastrointestinal issues settled. Of course she didn’t park as close as we did and when it was time to leave, she had about a half mile walk to the car.
On the return trip, I drove and Dad navigated. In the dark, with all the dust kicked up by departing fireworks-watchers, seeing was difficult enough for 50-year-old eyes, much less for 75-year-old eyes dimmed by diabetes. We made it home 3 minutes before my mom – but we did beat her home.
I went down by the water as my parents fixed coffee and got their nightly dessert ready in preparation for our next fun thing to do – watching The Bucket List. I looked up into a sky plastered with stars which made the dramatic and spectacular fireworks display I had just attended pale in comparison. I stuck my feet in the water and about 10 feet in front of me, hovering in the low branches of a pine tree, a firefly twinkled. Sometimes, the small things are really the most impressive.