“Laguna” is a magical word in our family. For almost 40 years of Julys, we have been coming to my parents' time share unit in Laguna Beach, across the street from Heisler Park and its practically-private cove below.
My parents would move in for the week, rice cooker and all, with our good friends Sam and Evelyn next door. Us kids would shuttle in from the Peralta Hills home base until we all became working stiffs and our Laguna time compressed to a precious weekend.
Our routine has solidified into a tradition not to be tampered with. I like to get down there early enough to climb around the rocks and tide pools sweatshirt-clad in the dense morning cloud cover, to walk down to Main Beach and back, and to read a book by the surf. By the time the sun comes out and my brothers and their families have arrived, it’s lunchtime, the first of many meals we take seriously.
At some point in the afternoon, a portion of Evelyn’s kids and grandkids also have arrived, and various subsets mix and mingle to go bodysurfing, return to the beach for sandcastle construction, or head straight for the pool. Later in the afternoon, Akemi and I dry off for stroll into town. We mostly just window shop, but have been known to have succumbed to a treasure or two over the years.
No matter what we are doing, we return to the clubhouse promptly at 4 pm for popcorn made in a movie theatre-style machine. It was here in Laguna that Evelyn introduced us to Hawaiian-style “hurricane popcorn” with senbei tossed with furikake. My dad, Sam, and Evelyn would break out the gin and tonics and more people than could fit into the little kitchen would start tackling the production of dinner for the hordes.
Our menu pretty much never varies: teriyaki chicken or beef, potato-macaroni salad, Chinese chicken salad, corn on the cob, watermelon and/or fresh pineapple and mangos, inari sushi (what other families call “footballs” but what my family calls “kangaroo pockets”), and tsukemono. This meal means summer on a plate more to me than any other meal. Dessert was a birthday cake in the combined honor of Sam, Bing, and my brother John. And it all tastes even better because we’re on the patio in the sunset with the sea breeze.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough the night before, we would count on my dad taking us all out to breakfast at The Cottage across the street on Sunday morning. And then we’d repeat the fun-in-the-sun routine all over again for another day before reluctantly returning to our respective homes late at night.
I am remembering in my mind’s-eye helping my dad as he manned the barbeque, Bing encouraging Akemi to swim in the pool, Sam humming Hawaiian melodies. I am remembering the first time when each of the spouses-to-be made their Laguna debut; if one of us wanted to bring a “friend” to Laguna, it meant it was serious. I am remembering many good friends who have joined us there for the day or for dinner.
This year, Evelyn’s daughter Laura, John, and I had our own short huddle by the barbeque, wondering if this was our mothers’ last relatively independent year down here and whether they’d be able to manage staying down here by themselves in another year. As Laura trailed off, “We’ve been doing this for so many years. . . ,” the magic flickering around the inevitable we each felt.
Even though it’s not the same without Bing, my dad, and Sam, somehow there’s still been magic enough that we can have a special time each year, adding another layer to the happy memories and setting up the anticipation for the next July.