Ocean City, New Jersey
August 20, 2000

To whom it may concern:

Dad and Katherine and I begin the drive from Brookline, Massachusetts, to Ocean City, New Jersey, at 12:33 PM, Saturday, 19 August.

The driving is broken into shifts of three hours or one hundred and fifty miles, whichever comes later. We had first planned to stop in New York City and spend the night at Katherine's and my apartment, but we decide, impetuously, to push through. This means we do not pick up the digital camera from K's sister in New York as planned. Thus, no record of this journey exists, except for this letter. I have not consulted any notes in composing these facts; they are, to the best of my immediate memory, accurate.

Our route is as follows: 1) The Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) heading west; 2) I-84 West; 3) The Saw Mill Parkway South; 4) The Tappan Zee Bridge; 5) I-287/87 North; 6) The Garden State Parkway South to New Jersey Shore Points.

In Ocean City, we will rendezvous with my mother's five sisters, her one brother, and their families, who normally live in Philadelphia, where my mother grew up. They will stay at my Aunt Susan's house at 19th Street and Boardwalk. We will stay at the ground-level apartment my grandmother has rented for the past three summers. It is on St. Charles Place between Atlantic and Corinthian, just down the street from the church where the Mass for my mother will be held in one week: Saint Francis Cabrini.

My grandmother passed away last 26 December. She died due to complications following the surgical removal of what was presumed to be a cancerous tumor from her lung, though we have never received the results of the biopsy. Her husband, my mother's father, passed away six years ago, of colon cancer.

Rest stops:

We stop first at the Charlton Plaza on the Mass. Turnpike for Taco Bell bean burritos, Katherine's new favorite. We purchase three: two for K, one for me, and an additional Burrito Supreme for me. Dad has two hot dogs.

Our second stop is at a Texaco station just off of I-84 at exactly mile 150. We purchase beef jerky (brand: "Oh Boy" Oberto) and four bags of rare Snyder's jalapeno-flavored pretzel pieces. The beef jerky is for me and K, who are attempting to eat fewer carbs and more protein in an effort to shed the many pounds we have gained since quitting smoking. The pretzel pieces are for my aunt Judy, who since that one time has never been able to find them in her local supermarket.

Stop three is a service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike at about mile 300. Inside, K and Dad both get frozen yogurt: vanilla, with jimmies.

Only about fifty miles left. At this point, K's and my game of Scrabble is abandoned after a heated dispute over the acceptability of the word "injun." K claims that, as slang, it is acceptable. I challenge, predicting that it does not appear in the official Scrabble dictionary, as the third edition has cleaned out all shits, fucks, and potentially offensive or insensitive terms. I am correct.

K claims this is poor sportsmanship on my part. Play the words, not the dictionary: that is her Scrabble philosophy. There is no philosophy, is my philosophy. Instead, there are rules. Challenging is within the rules, and I will use the rules to my advantage, however small, and I will do so ruthlessly and un-apologetically. Without rules there is only chaos.

At this point, the New York radio stations we first picked up around Danbury begin to fade.

The New Jersey Parkway is broken up frequently by toll plazas, designed to slow traffic. The price of passage is nominal: thirty-five cents – like last summer, but not like a few years ago, when I swear it was only a quarter. Though my memory may be incorrect here.

8:30 PM: arrival. We drive directly to Susan's house. In descending order of age, these are my mother's siblings, with parenthetical notes describing their families:

1. Jim, brother (husband to Anita. Previously married to Kay, whom he divorced, and then Linda, who died of cancer)
2. Janice (widowed, was married to Mike, no children)
3. Susan (widowed, was married to John, who died of cancer, and with whom she had two sons, Matt, 16, and Andrew, 12. Currently married to Tom, who is the dean of discipline at an all-girls' school)
4. Beth (never married)
5. And the twins: Judy (wife to Ralph, mother of Kyle, 8, Casey, 6, and Connor, 2); and Jane (wife to Joe, mother of Erin, 8, Dan, 6, and Kerrianne, 1).

All of the above are present when we arrive except for Jim, Anita, and Janice, who will be joining us in a few days.

All of the younger children, my cousins, have made wish lists for the summer, which they share with me and K. Hoped-for activities include:

"Jetskiing"
"Cape May Zoo"
"Fly Kites"
"Wonderland Pier with JK" ["JK" refers to John Kellogg, who is me; as opposed to John Francis, who is my dad]
"Mini golf with Katherine"
"Ride trolley with everyone"

The last item on Kyle's list is: "Say sorry about Aunt Eileen."

Eileen was my mother. She died on June 9 of this year of lung cancer. An interesting thing is that I could never remember her birthday. I forced myself to recall it last year, thank god, but even to this day I have no idea what I gave her as a present.

11:00 PM: departure from Susan's. Before heading to my grandmother's empty apartment, we stock up at the WaWa Market at West Avenue and 18th Street. There we purchase: string cheese, beef jerky (brand: cannot recall, but there is an American Indian on the label), eggs, milk, scrapple, and other staples. Then we buy gas. I offer twenty dollars to Dad for food and gas, and he attempts to refuse it.

My grandmother's apartment is dark and musty. Before going to sleep, I make eggs and scrapple for K, which we eat in front of the television. Dad goes to bed in the front bedroom. We go to bed in the back bedroom. It is cool and breezy: unseasonably so. Before falling asleep, I read twelve pages of the book BRAIN FITNESS by Dr. Robert Goldman, which is about exceptional super mind power and the benefit of making lists from memory, to train the mind against forgetfulness and stimulate neural growth.

Today it is Sunday, 20 August, 2000. My mother's birthday is 27 November, 1941. I am training myself against forgetfulness.

John













© 2000 Open Letters | This Week | Archive | Subscribe | Search | Contact | Home |