Nana was in the big-enough, poorly-lit kitchen, wiping down the counter with a brand new yellow sponge minutes after she parked her car after a three-hour drive. We all loaded up our skinny arms with supplies for the week and brought them from the car to the house, flip-flops flipping and flopping along the way.
Paper shopping bags from Price Chopper in Northampton filled with weeks of Nana and my mom’s tedious planning and preparation lined the floor, waiting to be emptied and folded. They put the groceries away, rinsed out the tall, steel lobster pot, and then mashed strawberries for shortcake. My brothers and I put our bags of clothes to the side, put on our bathing suits, and ran down to the ocean to dip our big toes into the icy Massachusetts water just to say, “It’s not cold.”
We stayed in that cottage a few summers, not sure exactly how many, in a little town called East Sandwich. It’s where I learned about soft, pastel saltwater taffy, sunset fires fueled by driftwood and stories, and a spicy town called Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s where I tried lobster for the first time, and also where I realized I didn’t like it.
Our cottage was gray and cozy. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and there was a pullout sofa in the living room. It was just enough room for Nana, my mom and dad, and my two brothers. We didn’t care much about the house, though, because all of our time was spent in the water and sand which was only a few steps away.
We would force our little child bodies through the violent waves while the seaweed pretended to be sharks and jelly fish, and we would happily stay in that water until it was dinnertime, which was planned weeks before. My dad would wrap us in a towel tight and safe, and the warmth from the late-day sun would take over.
Once the sun tired of our hemisphere, we would toss treats to the skunk mama and her babies who lived under our cottage. She was particularly fond of puffy Cheetos and hot dogs, and if I remember correctly, one of my brothers who worked very hard to earn her trust, fed her by hand. Maybe him feeding her was in my dreams, but it’s my sweet memory either way, little tails alert, warning us to not get too close. All we knew was not to walk too hard going out the back door.
Once night fell, the air cooled our goosebumpy, sun-kissed skin, we trotted from sandbar to sandbar to the setting sun, searching for sand dollars, our only light coming from small pen lights and bonfires. Night always came too fast, but I slept so soundly to the sound coming through the tiny square holes of the screen of the roars and the syncopation of the bubbly water, then the calm as the nighttime waves became lazy.
They told us goodnight and that they would be more gentle tomorrow.
I can still smell that slightly musty beach house scent that tells stories of different families and their vacation memories. I can taste the buttery corn-on-the-cob with so much salt that Nana bought at a farm stand in Hatfield, MA, and I can feel the prickly warmth on my newly pink shoulders.
Some memories in my life are a bit cloudy, like their mistiness is because they had to make room for more important events like weddings, births, and of course, funerals, and although they’re not gone, they’re a little less clear. It’s unfair, maybe, but pieces of those summers at the Cape will always remain vivid. Not the entire trip, nor even people’s faces. (That’s the weirdest thing about memories, the faces are the first to go for me.) The sensory details of the Cape though, they injected themselves into my soul, into my heart, and they beat freely through my veins, red and smooth.
Not everyone gets to go on beach vacations. It’s elite, exclusive, and unfair, but I’ve been a few times and I do understand how important it was for us to be together under the roof of that tiny home. We were all together then, no phones, no others, just us, and I miss it. I miss the corn. I miss the night fires. I miss all of it.