My parents are following me down the dirt path from the beach toward the pier where the boat will pick us up. It is late in the afternoon, but the sun is still strong and I am sweating like mad underneath my Panama hat, squinting through plastic sunglasses with disapproval. I get like that sometimes – vexed over nothing at all, except maybe my own ideas of how time should be spent, none of which include a summer vacation with them on an island populated entirely by families with very small children, or very old parents. So I gaze into the distance, the open sea which lies there sprinkled with a few odd little islands and lighthouses. When I look back at my father and mother trailing behind, the resentment is almost entirely gone. I see them laughing at each other, and at me, making an act out of walking the distance to the pier. I realize then that they will not always be this young or this happy, that perhaps there will come a year when we don’t complete the ritual of a vacation together – in deed, that the day is creeping up when the three of us will not be a family at all, so to speak.
There will be the two of them, in the flat I grew up in, and me, somewhere in the world, with only a memory of a family I once had to get me through the weekends and the holidays. So I look at them really closely, mother in her colorful dress and my blue polka-dot flip-flops, father with his Indiana Jones hat and black T-shirt, and many bags in which he carries his cameras. They are happy, so beautiful, and they are my parents. I don’t think I could be any more proud of them than I am in this moment. And I think, why did I ever want to stay at home and miss this? Why would I ever want to miss the time I can spend with them, when in reality there is not much of it left, not too much by a long shot – not enough.
If it were up to me, they would always be there on that path, enveloped in sunlight, walking toward me, and I would always be waiting – the dutiful daughter – for them to catch up and to hear their laughter, feel my mother’s hand grasp my arm and hang onto it, and fight my dad’s hand as he tries to ruffle my hair in a way you’d perhaps cuddle a cute dog or a very small boy. This is my first real adult memory: my beautiful, young parents, exhausted into calm happiness by the sun and the sea, laughing, as mischievous as they ever were.