It was Saturday morning about 9 o’clock and Pop came in off the porch.
"Any of you kids ever see the ocean?” he asked us. We were still in our pajamas watching some Saturday cartoons on the beat-up old black-and-white with the coat hanger for an antenna. Nobody said a word and, instead, watched the poorly drawn animals beat each other up on the screen.
“I said,” Pop continued, raising his voice to the “someone better answer me” level. “I said, ‘Any of you kids ever see the ocean?’”
“No, sir,” I answered, assuming my role as eldest and spokesman. “I don’t think any of us ever seen the ocean.”
The ocean was actually the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico was about 25 miles south or maybe west of us and where we were living. I’d heard about it and plenty of kids at school had seen it and told about it but I was pretty sure I’d never been there. I was pretty sure that none of us had been more than five miles from that house in our lives and I was 9 at the time and WalMart was, I estimated, about five miles away from our house because it had taken me about two hours to walk back from WalMart last year when Pop said I was acting like an asshole in auto parts and just left me there.
“Then we’re going to see the ocean today,” Pop announced. “Marie! Marie! Where the hell are you, Marie?”
We all just stared at the television knowing full well that Mom was still laid up in bed after the Friday night they’d had. I was trying to imagine what it would feel like to walk back and forth from WalMart five times. I figured it would take me ten or eleven hours and that was how far away the Gulf of Mexico was, ten or eleven hours of walking and it might as well have been Ding Dang Dong in China.
“Goddammit, Marie,” Pop muttered as he went off to look for her as if he had no idea where she was. “We got us a car to pack up.”
It took the family three hours to get ready to go to the ocean. We had to find all the things Pop said we’d need—towels, bug spray, shorts and t-shirts because none of us had a bathing suit, the old Polaroid to take photos to document our trip and paste into an album we didn’t have, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch in the sun, toys so we could play in the sugar sand Pop said the ocean was beached up with. Mom sat at the kitchen table drinking cup after cup of instant coffee and smoking Virginia Slim Menthol 100s one after the other. Pop was in charge of his refreshments and us kids did everything else under his direction. Connie started crying which wasn’t unusual since Connie cried at least once every day and that day she cried twice. The first time was for I don’t know what and the second time was when Pop smacked her face to get her to stop crying the first time.
“Get you a little shovel and a pail for digging in that sugar sand,” he said and off we went looking for such things.
“Can’t find no little shovels or a pail,” one of us told him.
“Goddammit,” he answered and ended up shoving a broken up garden spade and a plastic flowerpot into the trunk of the Ford. “Gotta do every little goddamn thing myself.”
“Get you one of those blow-up rings for swimming,” he told us.
Later, one of us came up and told him the bad news.
“Can’t find no blow-up ring thing for swimming.”
“Goddammit,” he answered and ended up shoving some black plastic garbage bags into the growing tangle of beach gear filling the Ford’s trunk. “Kids got no sense at all. Garbage bag’s like a big balloon anyhow. Blow one up and paddle around all day.”
It took us about three hours to fill up the trunk with all the stuff Pop said we should take to have fun at the ocean and then it took another half an hour to get Mom in travel shape. She got herself dressed, filled up one of those convenience store plastic mugs with about half-a-gallon of instant coffee, and shoved an extra pack of cigarettes into her purse. We all climbed into the Ford, kids in the back and grown-ups in the front with a mug of coffee between her legs and a can of beer between his, and Pop started driving us to the ocean.
By my reckoning, we’d gone about seven and a half miles or about a 90-minute walk when the left rear tire blew out. Everybody stayed real quiet and then Pop got out of the car and slammed the driver’s side door so hard the rearview mirror cracked. It was just one more thing.
About that time and even though the sun was still beating down sort of smoky hot and fierce, it started to rain a bit and the drops that hit him made little dark circles on his t-shirt. Pop just stood there in front of the Ford getting wet and saying “goddammit” over and over again.
“When I was a little girl, you know what we used to say when it would rain like this when the sun was still shining?” Mom finally said.
“No’m,” I answered. Connie was sniffling beside me.
“Us kids used to say that the devil was beating his wife.”