Each summer, I look forward to tackling the pile of books I’ve acquired and stacked throughout the teaching year– those I want to read but simply don’t have the time. I call it my Summer’s Promise. It invites me, each summer, to choose what I’m in the mood for and when. Inevitably, some in the pile have literary merit, books that make me think about life and appreciate writing styles, some are mindless and transportable, taking me to another place for a time, and each summer, one seems to stand out above the rest– one that lives long in my reading memory. I try to predict which ONE it will be, but I’m always pleasantly surprised.
Every summer it beckons, like a calling. The few summers we didn’t respond didn’t seem like summer at all. I smell the salt water in the air when we arrive, feeling the familiar heat like a tattered, cottony, smooth blanket, each tear marking a memory. Our car wades through the traffic like taking baby steps which makes the anticipation mount. We pass the ferry docks with a bustle of happy people coming and going, then the J.F.K.Memorial park on our left reminding us of the Kennedy presence in this town, next the Hyannis Yacht Club where boats of all kinds align the docks, some fastened to buoys in the water. And finally we arrive to our Cape Cod home, our other place, for we’ve been coming here for 28 years.
Our first trip, before we were even married, was a mistake of sorts wanting only not to vacation in a dump like we had two years before. I picked it out a AAA Travel Guide. It sounded decent enough: new, fully furnished condominiums, 5 levels, 3 bedrooms, 2 & 1/2 baths, living room, dining room, kitchen & den, ocean side or pool side. I just prayed it wasn’t like Sylvia’s. There were four couples renting this first summer. When we arrived, it looked, to us, like we’d stumbled into something that was beyond our means. We circled the stairway to the top where there was a deck with the most splendorous view I’d ever seen. At the bottom of the stairway, looking up, the various balconies peered out with a clear skylight at the top which emitted light throughout, all day.
That first year, we played house. Four couples on the cusp of engagement, the edge of living hard and living purposefully. This vacation brought a little of both.
Now, 28 years later, who would have thought we’d only stray a handful of times, only to return again. This place is a book mark noting all the significant chapters in our lives. From before marriage, to learning to vacation with in-laws; from our first child’s first vacation to the three of our children building sand castles together as young adults; from marital highs when we were inseparable to marital lows when we contemplated the fate of our union; from sharing our time with relatives, healthy and vivacious, to returning with out them — only present in our memories.
I could write a book of the summers spent here at our Other Place– the nuances which make each year distinct to itself. While we are never conscious of the moments that make the memories while we are in them, they are the highlights we return to in our minds once we’re home and the rhythms of life return, making our happy place seem like a dream. Perhaps, I will write them down one day to make sense of them– to realize how the sum of the years all fit together into one purpose.
After toting all of the necessities from home (those that have become fewer and fewer over the years), situating everything in it’s familiar spot, the moment vacation begins is when I open the slider to the back porch, taking in the beauty of the view: a grassy ledge, 4 stone stairs leading down the crystals of sand, hot on my tender feet, a sprawling beach that loops around the bay, ice blue water that when the sun hits looks like a sheen of diamonds, boats rocking in the current like cradles, all under a vast blue sky where the sun’s arms open up, welcoming.
Every time we turn around, something is falling apart.
We began the summer preparing for Tyler’s high school graduation party. Having invited 80 guests, we rented a tent, hired a caterer, I prepared some dishes myself, decorated with balloons and streamers– classy grey, black and white theme– and stood back, ready for the guests to arrive. Only when the guests arrived, so did the gusts of wind, the driving rain and the hail (yes, hail, in the beginning of July). We scurried the guests inside to watch the streamers come undone, the plastic cloths flying off the tables and the balloons sagging to the ground. Once it appeared to break, we bustled outside with a team of beach towels to dry the tables and chairs. As soon as we were done, another driving rain came thundering down. I said, “Fuck it” and thought, what can I do? let it ruin the day? I think not. I placed a dry pile of towels by the door and proceeded with the party.
It’s the first summer with the new boat. One week into summer, we take it out on a cool evening night– Anthony, Alexa and I. Definitely a sweatshirt night, as far as the riding in the cool and constant ocean breeze, we set out for our voyage run on Long Island Sound. This boat is bigger, roomier around the center console with a wider bench for lounging at the bow of the boat. Alexa and I are sharing earbuds, listening to upbeat music, singing to our hearts content on the way out; we can feel the speed and hear the motor humming. The sun begins to set, and we snap pictures to capture the moment, on the way back. And suddenly, the boat stalls. Anthony starts it up, but can’t get past going 7 miles per hour, so what took us 30 minutes to get out, took us considerably longer to get in. We saw SeaTow on three separate occasions coming in– a bad omen, as we put-putted our way back to the dock– the darkness ascending rapidly. At one point, fear set in; it was becoming cold, we were wet from the waves and I imagined us waiting in queue for SeaTow to come get us, shivering, stranded out at sea. I prayed. When we reached the No Wake Zone, the motor seemed to be stuttering more and more and I prayed we’d get into the slip without hitting any other boats. As we turned left into “C” dock, we stalled again, Alexa and I on opposite sides of the boat in ready position in case we were to bump another boat. Anthony tried and tried again to turn over the motor, but nothing… we continued to coast. A man saw we were in distress from the dock and rushed to our dockside. The nose of the boat veered off to the left, bumping the dock, as the man, in waiting, grabbed hold of the back. I held onto the dock, walking it in with my hands as the man pulled. We arrived safely, but our motor was dead– and would remain so for the next three weeks while we waited.
Now, Ryan, is living on the Cape working (his externship) at The Chatham Bars Inn with no car. A good lesson for him, while his brother is home using their shared car to drive to an from work each day. We agreed to a compromise with Ryan, that he could have shared-said car when we come up to the Cape for our vacation in August (since Tyler will have only one week of work left when we come home before he goes off to school). In order to ready their 1999 Ford Escort for the trek to the Cape, we needed to spend some pretty hefty money for a complete overhaul to keep it working, for it wouldn’t even pass emissions in the condition it was in.
Fluke storm #2… tornado warnings, hail, buckets of rain, wind, thunder lightening… (Al Gore is onto something, I’m thinking). In truth, I usually LOVE storms like this (sans tornado warnings). I like to sit outside on my front porch and watch the light show in the sky, never flinching once at the loud claps above. Normally. Well, on this day– the thunder was so loud that it shook my whole house, and the lightening lit up the whole sky. It was so strong, you could almost see it touch the ground. But, instead of seeing it, we felt the ramifications of it when it took out my husband’s work computer and phone, the dog fence and the air conditioning unit.
On two separate occasions, we also had issues with the windless anchor we’d looked so forward to having, a feature in the new boat we didn’t have in the first one. This boat is three feet longer than the first, so it fits more snuggly into the slip. A period of adjusting the navigation in and out of the slip was necessary. At the start of one of our first trips, the stern of our boat swung out, from a strong gust of wind, and stalled simultaneously, causing the top of our motor to get stuck beneath the windless of our across-the-dock-neighbor, thus, making a dent in the top of our motor. Later in the season, our windless ceased working and needed repair.
My husband, not fond of the pool– he goes in it an obligatory one time per summer– perhaps because he is the primary care taker. He cusses it from Memorial Day until Labor Day. So, of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, this summer, the pool filter is on the fritz. And because he is the handy man that he is– of course, he insists on trying to fix it about umpteen times (since we’d had the pool guy out earlier to fix a leak in the pool, which he informed us the “fix” would be temporary, getting us through the summer, but we’d need to replace the lining next summer in order to fully repair the leak). Finally, he had to give in and make a phone call, and the pool filter is finally running like a charm.
I don’t recall a season of so many repairs. Perhaps it’s where we are in our lives, and the status of our “things” and I keep reminding us that they are only “things”. I am reminded of our family motto:
The anticipation of it is marked on the white board in my classroom: 10, 9 , 8, 7, 6… 1 more day until summer.
And, finally– ahhhh– it’s here. The thing about summer is all the possibilities that await. Eight weeks of whatever I want to do until having to even think about the reality of the day and the schedule and the plan and the obligations and the routine.
Summer.: luxuriously looking ahead, like peaking around the corner anticipating a surprise.
It’s waking up when my body tells me to and I’m not dictated by the deafening sound of an alarm. Taking the time to brew my morning coffee and fix a breakfast of assorted, shiny, juicy fruits, inviting my teeth to sink in, then sitting on the back porch with the morning sun squinting my eyes because they are fully awake, while I enjoy my breakfast and the sounds of the birds, and silence.
It’s planting and sowing, dirt under my fingers, as I dig into the cold soil– loosen the roots at the base of the flowers that had been tightly tucked into flats. I free them as I insert them into the hole I dug with my bare hands, pressing the moss and potting soil around them– giving them the security they need to flourish, amidst the symphony of complimenting flowers or herbs or grasses or greens which surround them. I care for them all summer long like children, nourishing them, nurturing them, appreciating their beauty.
It’s taking the time to sit at my computer and write… whatever I want to write: an inspired poem, a reflective blog, or a novel with all the complexities of an imagined world that lives, breathes, and unfolds in my head.
It’s sitting in the lounge by the pool at the right hours of sun to tan my body while I lose myself in an all-encompassing book; then, when I get too hot or find my eyes growing tired, I rise to stand at the foot of the pool, considering for just a moment how the cool water will feel on my skin, refreshing, before diving in. I always swim, at first, to feel the blood flowing and muscles stretching before laying back atop the water, reminiscing of my synchronized swimming days when I danced in the water all summer long.
It’s sauntering at the grocer’s, choosing this vegetable or that, after picking it up in my hand, feeling it’s stage of ripeness, considering how I’d use it in a meal and what to balance with what. It’s returning home, picking the herbs from my garden, turning on a play list which mirrors my mood, only to flutter about the kitchen while cooking my meal into a presentation that makes mouths water.
It’s the sun setting, coolness of the night air, when I look up the stars– linger, and wonder if they are watching me too. The cicadas sing the melody of summer nights and the fireflies light up the darkness descending.
It’s the mojito (crisp rum, bright green mint leaves, a stick of sugar cane) standing on the table in front of me, inviting me to sip, tasting the cold sweetness in my mouth: almost instantaneous relaxation. Across from me, a friend whose conversation I become lost in, one who evokes laughter and responds to my words with the same. We lose track of time and atmosphere, living in the moment.
It’s the sounds of the docks as we approach the boat: bells clanging, seagulls squawking, motors running, waves lapping. Once we are out on the water, it becomes all about the sights… the shore becoming smaller and the water, vaster in our vision, surrounding us. We lose ourselves in the comforting rock of the boat as we drift…
It’s all the pretty colors exploding in the sky. Waiting far away from the launching, to protect us from rogue vessels, we watch the set up, follow the spark as it touches the wick, and it winds in a circular motion up, up, up, until we lose it & and suddenly, it erupts fountains, a majestic tapestry of reds, yellows, oranges, gold, greens, blues, arcing, and then gracefully falling, eventually disappearing into the night sky.
It’s the salt scent that fills the air as we approach our summer sanctuary at theCape. Each year, I open the front door, full of the same eagerness as the first time we vacationed here– 28 years ago. The familiarity flushing a calm through me, unmatched by any other place in the world. We resettle our things before opening the sliding glass doors to the hot sand and the crisp blue bay whose waves rush up to greet us as we stand on the edge of where earth and water meet. Feeling the fawn-colored, granules stick to our tender feet, only to be washed away as we stand up to our ankles letting the undertow sink our feet in. We have arrived.
It’s watching our grown children, working together, as architects of the greatest sand castle of the summer. They work, often, silently; their rhythms in sync after all these years of honing their craft. There is the water gatherer, the shell collector/designer, and the dumper of the assorted molds of packed sand. Standing back, they admire their work, as I admire my own.
It’s waking up, lazily, still drowsy, to the sights and sounds of the water slapping the shore and the boats of the neighboring yacht club rocking like cradles. And the sun… oh, the morning sun, is the most prominent feature of our summer home. The way it rises in the sky, bright orange and yellow, rising up, casting its morning glow like a promise in front of me.
The arrival of mums at the town nursery is the first indication of summer’s end. They are potted, neatly in rows, awaiting the stage of maturation which makes them appealing for selling. I, of course, will buy these mums, but never before school has begun. I see it as some kind of slap in the face to summer.
And, then, there are the dreaded letters I receive: two of them, one from the principal and one from the superintendent, both welcoming us back to another school year. I know their contents: I stammer to open each of them, sometimes I get so daring as to leave them unopened on the table for days, but they stare at me– a haunting reality of the end of summer’s simplicities.