When I was a kid, we lived a few miles inland from Lake Michigan in a rural area of Wisconsin. With my mother having two children before she could legally drink alcohol, and my father striving to make ends meet painting houses and taking other "odd" jobs, we were not well-off.
My sister made it her quest to inform me that our impoverished condition was entirely my fault: "We're poor 'cuz you won't eat your eggs and Mom has to buy you Coco Wheats instead," "We can't have a puppy 'cuz we're poor and Mom had to spend money buying you new shoes," or "We never have any fun 'cuz we're poor 'cuz you were born and you were a mistake."
She and I are about as close now as we were then.
She and I shared a bunk-bed in a room that was wall-papered with strips of yellow and red miniature cartoon clowns. At night, since there was a large curve in the road outside our window, the lights of cars would shine in the window and course its way across the room like a search light in a prison movie. The beams of light on that wallpaper would illuminate those big red clown smiles, mocking us, seemingly endorsing my sister's declaration of never having any fun.
But, one night, my father roused us from sleep. With our spring coats in his hands, he told us to get up. We were going for a ride, and he wouldn't tell us why. As soon as my father left the room for us to get dressed, my sister couldn't pass up the opportunity: "Yup, they're gonna give you away to a different family. I heard them talking about it."
I cried. Car lights streamed into the room, and my sister's laugh joined the chorus of mocking clowns from the walls.
Depositing us in the back seat of the Volkswagon Bug, my mother sat in the passenger seat drinking coffee and chain smoking. My father sang along with the radio and cruised down the road. I was crying quietly, because if I would only behave, perhaps they wouldn't get rid of me. I didn't want to make a fuss. I made lots of promises in my mind about being a "good boy," and ploted ways to get my sister kicked out of the family instead of me.
About a mile down the road, the car veered off the country highway. This was a dead end road; it stopped at a sandy unclaimed area that we used as our personal beach in the hot days of summer. My mind reeled as I peered out the windows trying to see another car or some form of life, my new family waiting to take me away.
Putting the Bug into park, my dad told us it was time to get out. There was no one around, just the four of us. It was a warm night; the coats were just a means to appease my mother who constantly had us bundled in layers regardless of the temperature. We walked toward the sand, and my mother put out her cigarette with her shoe, and then she took her shoes off. Lake Michigan was an oily black that night, and the sounds of water quietly lapped against the shore in a rhythmic lullaby.
By this time, I figured out that my sister had made up the story of me being given away, just like she made up the story of E.T. living underneath our bed or how eating a piece of grass would cause your stomach to explode as the grass grew in your tummy.
We all followed Mother's example and took off our shoes. My father was already ahead; he was laying on the sand. I was last because I loved squishing the cool sand through my toes; it was like squeezing out a sponge with your feet, but not getting wet.
My mother sat next to my father, and she produced a thermos of hot chocolate that she poured for me and my sister. Very little was said by anyone; in fact, I only remember my father's command: "Lay down"
So, we did. Being in a rural area, hundreds of miles from a large city, the sky at night unveils thousands of stars. But, on this night, the stars moved. I had no idea they could do that. It was magic. First, one skirtted its way across the heavens, and I was certain it wasn't real. That first one seemed to be the leader of the pack as star after star seemed to chase after it across the sky, each one disappearing off the map of constellations forever.
It was better than T.V., and if it wasn't the sound of the waves and the lateness of the hour, I would have wished to stay forever. With a cool bed of sand, I nodded off and woke up to find myself back in my bunk-bed the next morning...
And there they were, those blasted clowns, laughing at their own inside jokes; but this time, I returned their smiles with one of my own, because my family witnessed magic during the night and it didn't cost us a dime.