Amidst the haze of the sticky summer heat, I almost drive right past it.
It’s the pastel hue that makes me look twice, an anachronism squeezed between two identical boxes of grey brick. Outdatedly curved amidst a sea of sharp rectangles, its faded yellow fibro gleams at me from the side of the highway. It beckons me to slow down, to pull over.
To pay an old friend a visit.
I get out of the car. The brown grass crackles beneath my feet, the salty breeze stirring memories of summers long gone. My sisters and I would jump out of the family car and onto this grass with feverish excitement, restless after the hour-long ride. Our annual summer treks would begin with towels and boogie-boards crammed in the boot and the three of us fighting over who had to sit in the middle. Yet soon enough, we’d take that final right turn, spot the glistening blue on the horizon, and count the seconds until we could fling ourselves onto that front lawn.
Everyone else would already be up there, of course. Our three cousins would run out of the house to meet us; six pre-teen girls squealing and hugging, already planning what games to play, pestering our parents to let us walk down to the beach. Then Nanna would greet us the same way she always did, her thick-accented welcome echoing across the lawn. She’d smother us with hugs, speckle our face with kisses and pinch our cheeks till they blushed. Then there’d be Nannu, relaxed by the barbeque from the very second he’d arrived. He’d have his shirt off and his novelty chef’s apron on, and he’d stride around languorously in those tacky Velcro thongs we always teased him about. As we rushed to see him, he’d stretch his brawny arms to catch us, his face splitting into the kind of smile that made you smile back without thinking. It was the kind of look that could crack the hardest of stony glares if you gave him long enough.
Meanwhile, Mum and Dad would fuss about unpacking the car, panicking over the premium deli goods going off in the boot. Inevitably, there’d be the realisation that someone had forgotten the spare pair of tongs, one of the kid’s rashies, or perhaps even Aunty Carolyne’s belated birthday present. Such a devastating announcement would be delivered with copious hand gestures and lashings of Maltese profanity. the squawks from the rosellas chiming in with our own chirping.
And thus, the annual Dromana holiday would begin.
We’d linger out the front for a while before the women made their way inside and the men got to work cracking open a few beers. Us kids would be deciding which rooms we’d be sleeping in, which movie we’d watch that night, and talking about the Christmas presents we’d brought up to play with. Twelve excited voices astir in the December heat.
It was the sound of chaos. The sound of summer.
A blaring horn yanks me from my reverie. My eyes flicker back to the highway, which is so much more congested and angry than it used to be this time of year. The view of azure horizon is now subsumed by the onslaught of traffic, the tropic greenery that once dotted these streets now plucked bare.The front yard was once swamped with perpetually blooming hydrangeas in clouds of violet and blue. The six of us would pluck them by the bunch when Nanna wasn’t looking, arranging them in op-shopped vases and placing them around the kitchen. She’d be irritated at first, flaring up briefly at the thought of us mangling her carefully pruned garden. Yet it would only take a few seconds after spotting a vase on the bench, or the flowers tangled in our hair, before she’d smile and forget she was meant to be annoyed.
Now the lush garden bed lies withered, those once verdure lawns now more closely resembling hay than anything alive. The sterile homes that have invaded this street have infected my grandparents’ holiday house. The cold colour palettes of pre-designed, Metricon homes have bleached this place of its former retro glory; the vibrant yellow paint now pitifully faded, flecked with dirt, crumbling at its edges. The garage door is coated with a thick layer of muddy dust, the yellowing newspaper stuck behind the windows all shrivelled, translucent. You can almost see straight inside to the living room, the place we’d spend so many hours playing cards after dinner, where we’d all sit together and eat icy poles in front of the fan on the most searing afternoons. I’m caught off guard by the remnants of building debris I see drifting across the front of the house in the summertime gale. It’s getting late, and the longer I stay, the quicker this place seems to fall apart.
I’m just about to keep heading straight down the freeway when I decide to make a U-turn. I keep driving down the Safety Beach main strip, past the trendy new cafes and chain fashion outlets and banks and real estate agents. It feels cluttered, overwhelmed, alien; there’s just been too much change to an image I remember so vividly. Yet just as I’m approaching the end of the street, I finally recognise a small haven of familiarity in this now-foreign landscape.
I spend another hour or so eating an ice cream by the pier, a cone straight from the old shop that Nannu would take her grandchildren to every night. Even amidst the noise of the traffic, for the first time, the calm of the ocean settles me. It brings me back. I can feel my sisters and cousins beside me, all silent now that we’re busy with our ice creams. Then there’s Nannu staring off into the sunset, a delighted fisherman excited by the sight of a pink sky. Nanna’s telling us another story about her childhood in Malta, the one where she dated the gardener without her parents ever finding out. It’s not the first time we’ve heard it, but she loves telling it. And we love hearing it.
Ice cream dribbles down the side of my hand and I feel like a little kid again.
I’m back for the annual summer trek.
Beth Seychell is currently studying for her undergraduate degree, majoring in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. In her spare time, she loves watching films and working on her book blog, @bethsbibliotheque. A few of her favourite things include peacocks, laksa and anything floral-printed.