The Safe
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My fondest summertime memories bring me to the sunset of summer on Labor Day weekend at Auntie Camille and Uncle John's house in Kingston. Auntie Camille and Uncle John live in a two-family house by the ocean that they share with Uncle John's brother, Uncle Bennie, and his wife, Auntie Eleanor. They have an Olympic-sized swimming pool, complete with diving board and slide, a fully equipped cabana with two refrigerators, a stove, a sink and a bathroom. There is a fluorescent blue bug zapper and a colorful array of lawn statues, including leprechauns, donkeys, angels, and of course, the Blessed Virgin Mother.

The beach is just a short walk down the gravel road through the field that harbors majestic stacks of overstocked septic tanks from Uncle John's block company down the street. My cousin, Michael, and my brother and I would delight in climbing up into the top septic tank of the highest stack and spying on our relatives through the foot-sized holes in the great colander-like cement bowl.

  
 
There was once a boathouse, but unfortunately it was destroyed in the blizzard of '78. I have fragmented memories of it. I remember the smell of cigarette smoke and liquor, the sound of bocce balls rolling on the wooden floor and a sense of hedonistic festivity. My grown ups were young then. Their kids were kids and their hair was black.

Every Labor Day weekend there was a great three-day-long family party with an abundance of wonderful food and drink. One afternoon was always spent sitting by the pool eating crabs. The crabs would have a diuretic affect on certain family members, and I secretly entertained myself by guessing who would be the first victim, and watching the bathroom door open and close again and again as the crabs got their revenge.

Every year we would stay in the cozy Capeway Traveler Motel across the street from Auntie's house. Our family was large enough to occupy an entire strip of rooms. One memorable Labor Day, I slept in, knowing that the others would already be checked out and over at Auntie's house breakfasting on coffee with Sambuca and pizzeles. While packing up my car I saw June, the housekeeping lady. She looked forlorn as she pushed her cart across the parking lot.

"Good morning, June. How are you?" I asked cheerfully.

"Oh, I feel terrible," she replied.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I guess your Auntie Marie found a condom on the floor of her room," she explained, shaking her head sadly.

I choked back a belly laugh as I attempted to stifle the image of poor Auntie Marie's expression when she made the grim discovery. I tried to comfort her. "Awww, don't worry. These things happen." But I could see that Auntie Marie made clear her dismay.

"I feel terrible," she repeated and slowly ambled away, the wheels of her cart sighing mournfully on the asphalt.

I drove to Auntie Camille's, chuckling wickedly at the colorful scene I was imagining, for Auntie Marie was sharing a room with her 85-year-old mother, Josie, and her 23-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

I arrived to find everyone gathered around the table listening with rapt attention to Auntie Marie's account of what had happened: "I was going to turn off the lamp when I looked down and saw it on the floor. So I said 'Oh my God, Ma, there's a safe on the floor!' And Jennifer says, 'That's weird. This place doesn't seem fancy enough to have safes in the rooms.' So I said, 'Not that kind of safe, Jennifer.' But I guess the kids today don't use that word. So she comes over to look and says 'Ma, that's not a safe, that's called a condom.'"

My mother always called them prophylactics. Auntie Marie must have hung out with the cool kids.

There is something both endearing and frightening about generational dialect. For surely one day I will fall victim to it just like my grown ups. My own generation's version of a land where women can be broads and bottle openers can be church keys. And when it happens to me, I hope some little wise-ass catches it and sets me straight.

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