Memory 1: White Raleigh

He rode a white Raleigh down the huge hill that led into the parking lot of our club. He’d swing a wide turn, leaning over, his right leg straight on the pedal. He’d ride straight past the dinghies on trailers, their covers like little tents peaked over the booms, past the rows of cars lined up on the flat asphalt.

That hill led back up to all the houses of Northport which held some mystery to me, as we were from Huntington and didn’t go to school there. The Northport kids were our sailing friends, our best friends from June to August. We’d travel to races together, party together, go to the dances. At the full moon of late August, it’d all be ending. School loomed and we knew it was time to store our sails, gloves and foul-weather gear for the winter.

We’d travel to races together, party together, go to the dances. At the full moon of late August, it’d all be ending. School loomed and we knew it was time to store our sails, gloves and foul-weather gear for the winter.

The parking lot led to a wide ramp, painted green, used for wheeling boats down to the water. At the top of it, the salt air would hit you and then your summer day would start.

Our yacht club was kind of a run-of-the-mill one in the middle of Long Island. It wasn’t Centerport Yacht Club, across the harbor with its wide porches lined with blue & white striped chairs, its huge pool and fancy dining room. Our yacht club was a blocky white number stuck into a hillside with a decent pool, a dock leading to the hoist and rows of Blue Jays, the boat we all learned on.

Sailing lessons started at 9:00 when the morning breeze was just right. 9:00 was the middle class. The older kids’ lesson started at 3:00 when a strong southerly came up almost every afternoon. The Novices took their lesson at noon in the heat of the day when the wind tended to die down. Our class was called Midgets. We’d graduate to Juniors next year.

We were in class together. He liked the yellow boat that summer and practiced in it every day. I crewed for Nick that summer and really improved my spinnaker set and jibes. At the little starting lines our instructors would set for us I’d catch glimpses of Sam sitting up on the rail of that yellow boat, his body leaning out over the water, eyes squinting in the sun, checking his sail trim. He was really a natural, and he was starting to win all of our races.

At the little starting lines our instructors would set for us I’d catch glimpses of Sam sitting up on the rail of that yellow boat, his body leaning out over the water, eyes squinting in the sun, checking his sail trim. He was really a natural, and he was starting to win all of our races.

My crush was pretty big. We were 14. He was the oldest of four boys. The younger three were a string of look-alikes with blonde hair that’d arrive at the club shirtless, beach towels draped around their necks, with their gorgeous mother, ready to spend the day swimming and eating hot dogs. Their mom was tall and thin, and she walked like she was riding air. Looking back, I’m sure she was Swedish or from some northern place where beauties come from.

After lessons, we’d hose our boats down, fold our sails and head back up the ramp. A few of us would hang around Kevin’s Fireball as he tinkered with his Harkens. Sam would swing back on his Raleigh, one leg on the ground and one swung over, getting ready to go. I thought white bikes just were the coolest and I didn’t want him to leave. You remember 14-year-old yearning. It’s pure and the pull is strong. I couldn’t reach Sam, he was beyond it, he occupied his own quiet, distant domain. But I’d watch him ride out, his blonde hair parted by the breeze, ready to ride up the gigantic hill. Sam. He was his own planet rising and setting, noticing the constellations he sailed by, riding his path in his own arc of sky.

Sam. He was his own planet rising and setting, noticing the constellations he sailed by, riding his path in his own arc of sky.

Shazaam! and Expelliarmus!

Yesterday we get to the green grass slope of the park, and down runs Jack, his purple satin cape flying. He wears a big pointed wizard hat decked with stars, carries a plastic pumpkin bucket that bounces as he runs, and sports black & white checkered sunglasses.

My husband and I grin at each other. I say, “Ya can’t tell him no!”

As in: I’m not going to say, “No, Jack, you can’t wear a costume. It’s April, and Halloween is in six months.”

See, he’s been hooked on this Halloween book from the library. He reads it constantly and he’s even gotten the broom out and he roams around the house with this get-up on with the broom stuck between his legs, saying he’ll be a witch for Halloween. Yesterday morning we even cast some spells. A mix of Shazaam! and Expelliarmus!

So we start shooting hoops at the park. The hoop’s at regulation height and Jack doesn’t do terribly. He does forget to move out of the way and gets hit in the face with a rebound. We have to remind him to be nimble which is very hard for his body. There’s heaviness to him and the drugs make him slow.

We have to remind him to be nimble which is very hard for his body. There’s heaviness to him and the drugs make him slow.

Then two kids, a little older than Jack, start playing Frisbee with their dad near us. The one kid who can really throw glances over a few times. He probably wonders why this kid is dressed this way and talks that way. But I don’t sweat it. At one point the ‘bee lands close to our dog lounging on the court, and the kid comes to grab it and looks Jack square in the face now that he’s close.

Kids are just curious. They just want to know why that kid looks, sounds and moves differently. They want a language for it.

Kids are just curious. They just want to know why that kid looks, sounds and moves differently. They want a language for it. Like, “Oh that kid had seizures when he was young and now his brain is a lot different than mine.”

I’ve gone into the schools and given these talks but I can’t give entire generations of children the language to know that disability is ok, and quite natural and really wants a friend.

So to the 13-year-old in Bryant Park with the really good Frisbee arm: Jack wants to be your friend. You’d learn from each other. In fact you’d learn A LOT more than you think from Jack. His creativity will astound you. Society still draws lines that keep us apart. But I think that’s wrong. Can we demolish the lines that separate us?

3-legged Dog

Picture a 3-legged dog. You’re both walking down a trail.

Now this dog wants to sniff the next whiff of pungent under those wet leaves just as much as the 4-legged dog, who you both spy up ahead. When you reach him, this dog sidles up clumsily, they sniff each other and move on.

This dog also wants to say hi to the girl dog up there just as much, maybe even more. He doesn’t get there as fast as the sturdier dog. He hobbles, he bobs. He finds a way, and you’re swayed by his determination.

Your 3-legged dog likes it when you smile at the way he bounces when he runs, his whole body up and down, a cartoon ship bobbing in the waves. Sometimes when he sprints he tumbles because the front leg’s gone, and out goes your heart.

Your 3-legged dog likes it when you smile at the way he bounces when he runs, his whole body up and down, a cartoon ship bobbing in the waves. Sometimes when he sprints he tumbles because the front leg’s gone, and out goes your heart.

A 3-legged dog knows the world’s built for one more leg, but he maneuvers it to his own form. Looking out from a tilted head, eyes on a slant plane, he needs the same amount of play and affection. And you give it gladly. This dog’s got grit, got the life force.

Watch him. He runs up to the girl dog but, sure, the quick mutt got there first. He semi-circles and when you realize he mimics the mutt just for a shot at the girl’s attention — he actually perfects the move — you love this dog for it.

He hears people take that “Aww” tone. But maybe his three legs get him around really great in the snow. The bounce propels him. And he still swims in the ocean, ventures out, and finds himself free in the waves. The heart of the dog is the same.

This dog’s got it stacked against him but he doesn’t dwell on all that. Play with me, he says. Actually, he’s begging. But that’s his playful nature.