The Acorn's crowning glory, the place everyone could agree was beautiful and worth its wood was the backyard. It grew from a multi-tiered deck that led down into a freshly laid rectangle of grass, where there waited a horseshoe pit and a small platform for spectators or, as we used it, afternoon yoga sessions. Here, we could all stand together and see the ocean without being mauled by strong winds. Here was the grill where Andrew made delectable pork chops. Here was the hammock Caroline lounged in briefly before being summoned to play cartwheel. Here was the small square of sand with the metal rod sticking up where Darwin and Hoyt spent hours trying to toss horseshoes around, punishing the loser with push-ups. And here was the platform upon which Lynn led the girls from pose to pose until we ended up with the sun falling upon our faces in Shavasana, the yogic dead pose, feeling more alive than ever.
On our last evening we dined at the Flying Fish Grill in downtown Carmel, a gem that slopes gently down to the beach, where a giant twisted tree stands with one sharp, dead branch jutting into the grey sky. Like stone, its trunk was smoothed from sandy winds. For dessert we bought a carton of Mocha Almond Fudge (an ubiquitous albeit elusive flavor – cartons never taste as good as scoops from a sweet shop) and two boxes of Magnums – ice cream bars I discovered on another beach, in another country to enjoy at sunset on the Acorn’s deck. And we did, taking in the seascape for one last time. Geese walked about the grass beyond the deck, foraging for their own sweet grub. My cousins played a final game of horseshoes. The sky glowed, than began to fade. The air was crisp, the sea calm, the grass soft but cold, as though prodding us indoors. Our ice cream finished, we went in, single file and slightly muted as people usually are at the end of vacations. Behind us, the sun fell slowly down behind the sea.
In the living room Andrew announced, “We have time for one last game.”
Caroline and I nodded.
“Balderdash,” we said. They were leaving that night, while the rest of us the following morning.
As our parents talked wistfully in the kitchen – save for uncle Louis who sat down once again in his favorite chair – Caroline explained the rules of “Balderdash: The Hilarious Bluffing Game.”
The cards provide five categories including strange words, movie titles, and acronyms. Define or explain them. Make up what you don’t know and hope people believe it.
Caroline was right, I was good and won the game by a two-space margin; though the highlight of the game belonged to my cousin Andrew, who for the acronym TEAM, wrote “Turtles of European American Mothers”. I laughed until my lips cracked. Balderdash indeed.
And all too soon, it was time for two of our party to break away. As Caroline and Andrew readied to go, Lynn played a little girl’s tune upon the old piano in the Acorn’s game room while her husband stood by, hands crossed over his chest, marveling.
“I didn’t know she could play,” he said, as I walked by.
A few walls away, my mother chatted quietly with Darwin, both thinking that the music wafted from someone’s computer. My uncle Louis stood up from his chair and paced around, dreading his youngest son’s departure. He wrung his hands.
“Too short,” he said, face forlorn, “Too beautiful, too short.”
We stood on the grass, the only light coming from the Acorn’s windows and Caroline’s car, which glared at us from the pitch-black driveway and cast long shadows of our bodies left behind. Hands in our pockets we thought collectively of the following day, the long drive home, and life with less garden and less sea, more light at night. They waved goodbye. We waved back.
“And now we are eight,” Darwin said softly.
The Acorn became the only source of light.
As I wondered how far I dared to walk without a flashlight, Uncle Louis turned to go inside. “Too short,” he said again, “too beautiful, too short.” And though he couldn’t see, I nodded. Balderdash indeed.