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A View of the Bay

Illustration by Homestead Studio

Aimée Lutkin | Longreads | November 2019 | 15 minutes (3,262 words)

“Hello?” my grandmother’s cigarette-seasoned voice would always answer the phone immediately. I pictured her sitting directly beside it in her motel room, waiting to see which of her three daughters or four grandchildren was checking on her.

“Hi, grandma! Just calling to see if you and Papa are OK in the storm,” I’d say cheerfully, assuming they were basically fine, as they always were. They had evacuated their house, a flimsy four-room hut built atop cement blocks, that was set inconveniently close to the Narrow Bay, right on Mastic Beach in Long Island. All that stood between their home and a body of water that could consume it was a dirt road and a rustling wall of reeds that created a marshy barrier and the illusion of distance. That illusion was regularly washed away by storm flooding, sending them skipping backward like sandpipers.

“Well, we’re all settled in here,” she’d answer, sounding pleased to have evacuated for the night to an artless motel next to a barren parking lot. “Your father is watching the news. Looks like we’ll be back tomorrow!”

“Oh, that’s good,” I’d say, ignoring that she had confused me for my mother as she often did after passing her 80th birthday.

“Yeah, not too bad, not too bad,” she’d say, though there were a few times that did get bad. The year their cars were washed away and they were trapped in their house, years where the power went out. But they always bounced back and during the next storm I’d call to check in again, repeating the same familiar pattern.

For years, visiting my grandparents involved a two- to three-hour train ride on the LIRR from New York City; I went by myself once every summer or spring, and I visited with my mom and aunt and uncle who lived in Montauk every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Montauk is on the eastern tip of Long Island, so Mastic was where we met in the middle until my mother refused to go back. Then I’d go by myself for one winter holiday, alone on the cold, empty train, traveling back and forth on the same day. A six-hour train ride was preferable to spending the night in the drafty house, making conversation around my mother’s absence. Read more…