This is a story wrapped in privilege.
If my great-great-grandfather hadn't bought a little piece of land on Chapoquoit Island, used then primarily for raising pigs (its nickname is still Hog Island), we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
The pigs left, and people moved in. My dad spent summers in the small beach house, its shingles battered by salt and wind, the sea creeping a little closer to the back porch each year. He was related to almost everyone else on the island. As a child, he sailed, rode bikes, and explored with all the other kids, creating their own world every summer.
Since his parents passed away many years ago, the house has been owned jointly by my dad and his two brothers. It sits inert and empty during the winter, buttoned up against the Cape Cod cold, and is for the most part rented out during the summer. This helps cover the costs of owning the house (one that gets battered by hurricanes with frightening regularity). Each brother (my dad included) gets 10 days every July for their family to use the house.
Those ten days spelled freedom as a child.
The speed limit on the island is 15 MPH, but people rarely drive. It's so small, a walk will get you the neighbor's house, and even closer, to the beach. Rabbits run wild under rosehips and between honeysuckle hedges. As more and more wealthy people purchased property, a security guard was stationed at the entrance to the island. It was the safest place I ever experienced as a child. All that was required in the morning was a quick slap of suncreen, a bike helmet, and a "Bye, Mom!" We had walkie-talkies so we could check and see what was for lunch, but that was our only concrete connection to the adults in our family while there. We (siblings and cousins) spent our time splashing in the waves of the harbor, jumping off of Big Pier, riding our bikes to our grandmother's rose garden -- totally isolated, the air just drunk with floral scent -- learning to ride our bikes sans training wheels on the green tennis court across from our house, eating raspberries warmed by the sun right off of the bush.
We got older, as kids do, and started to spend more time sunbathing than adventuring. We brought along high school friends, college roommates, and later, partners. The place didn't lose much magic, though, until the old, shingled houses we loved started to be replaced by new, huge structures. The rose garden is gone. The tunnel of green that led to Big Pier has been cut down. We're related to fewer and fewer of our neighbors. Our little seaside house is one of an ever-dwindling number of original buildings on the island.
And soon, it will be gone, too.
The time has come for my dad and his brothers to sell the house. It's the reasonable, smart thing to do -- I know this as an adult. That doesn't mean my inner child is on board, however. I threw an emotional tantrum when we were there last, catching my breath on those childlike sobs edged with a sharp, true, honest sadness. I don't think there could be a more finite, tactile opportunity to say goodbye to one's childhood than to say goodbye to this house. And it will likely be a permanent goodbye; whoever buys the house will, odds are, be buying it for the land, and our cottage will go the way of so many more on the island.
We were lucky to have had a place like this at all -- so lucky, and I'll never forget that. I turn my thoughts now to how Kristie and I, and my brother and sister, will be able to create that kind of heaven, that summer nirvana, for our future children. After all, our house, Cape Cod, was just a backdrop for what really mattered: the companionship, adventures, family, love, safety, and freedom that could make ten summer days feel like infinity.
Bear with me...there are a lot of pictures here (more after the jump). But there is a lot IN these pictures too -- a childhood. A whole lifetime of summers.
I took a ton of video during our last trip, knowing it could be our last (my dad's ten days were a few weeks ago and we managed to get out for a long weekend), and am in the process of making a little film. I already know it's going to take awhile; I want this one to be special and perfect, a testament to that place, a thank-you for the childhood it gave me.