Aunt Miriam Rocks
“Are we there yet?” we asked a hundred times. Could this scene be any more cliché? My parents sat in the front seat of our black, stick shift, VW Bug, circa 1969. I in the back, and my sister Suzanne wedged into the well behind the rear seat and…the engine. We were on our way from our apartment in Howard Beach, Queens to our small Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ cottage. We’d visited many times when my mom’s Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie owned it, but my parents had just bought it from them because he was ailing and they’d moved to be closer to their children.
As city kids, our exposure to outdoor colour was largely limited to the black asphalt of the playground outside our brick red high-rise, ringed by muddy white and pasty pink concrete. ‘The country’—as we called it—was Eden.
Going to ‘the country’ for the weekend meant lounging languidly by the mushy muck-bottomed lake, exploring the woods for flora and fauna, and savoring Hebrew National hot dogs that my father grilled outside.
Anxious to arrive, the nearly two-hour drive in Friday evening traffic tortured me, 9, and my sister, 6. We were whiny, kvetchy, and hungry. “Are we there yet?”
“Not yet. You just asked three minutes ago. Now stop. We’ll get there when we get there,” my father would say, no doubt frazzled from the workweek, the drive, and the cacophony behind him.
But my mom, hoping to pacify both him, and us, took a different approach.
“Girls. We used to drive up here all the time with Grandma and Grandpa, all the way from Union City. It was a long drive, too, and we couldn’t wait to get up here–like you. Here’s what Grandma Sally told me: When we get close to ‘the country’, you will start to see two very special things—these big greyish-purplish rocks that look like they’ve been splattered with white paint. And bright orange flowers that look like starbursts, with very long stems. We call the rocks ‘Aunt Miriam Rocks’, because when you see them, you know we are close to Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie’s house. And the flowers are called ‘Tiger Lilies’. At night, they close up to sleep, and open again when they wake up in the morning. So keep very quiet, keep your eyes on the side of the road, and let me know when you see Aunt Miriam Rocks and Tiger Lilies.”
We were mesmerized. These landmarks took on mythical qualities. We believed they were put there—like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs—to lead us to the lake. We shut up and looked out, scouring the passing roadside, eager to be the first to spot them.
We’d point and shriek with glee when we did, and sure enough, we’d arrive shortly after they appeared.
I haven’t seen an ‘Aunt Miriam Rock’ anywhere since. I wish I knew what they were. But every summer, in late June and early July, the tiger lilies sprout along the roadsides where I live. They close up to sleep, and open up when they wake up in the morning. And when I see them, I know I’m close to my mom, wherever she is, and I’m close to home.