A writer revisits the carefree Cape Cod of her youth.
When I was a child, the tiptop of the Sagamore Bridge loomed like a giant Ferris wheel on the last mile of Route 3—a bridge between the school year and sweet summer that never failed to send my stomach into orbit. Crossing the canal was the passage to freedom. Behind us were the duties and predictability of stately, staid suburbia. Ahead was a land of sand and scrub pines, poised precariously and perfectly at the edge of possibility.
Summer days at my grandmother’s house on Osterville’s Eel River, stretched long and languorously before me. Waking up without a schedule, ready to beach, boat, clam, or bike on a whim seemed—and still seems—the ultimate of luxuries. We own our own home now in nearby Centerville, but sometimes I get bogged down being a grown-up.
Recently, I decided to retrace my childhood steps in an effort to reclaim the sheer joy of a Cape Cod day lived in the moment. The Cape did not let me down.
It seemed only right to start the day at our old house. The owners, away at the time, cheerily granted me permission to roam and reminisce. I arrived by bike, the mode of transportation that for all those childhood summers defined independence.
Although the shores of our neighborhood’s saltwater inlet are today spotted with mansions, our home has miraculously escaped being razed or unrecognizably altered. The attached garage my father and grandfather converted into a two-bedroom addition for our growing family in the late 1950s is again a garage but the footprint remains the same. It’s not hard to picture the summer bedroom that housed four siblings in two sets of bunk beds whispering and giggling long past our bedtime into the summer night. How many whippoorwill and firefly-filled evenings did we chase each other across this lawn with flashlights? How many secret club meetings did we conduct in the garage built by my father and grandfather?
The quaint gazebo atop the steep stairs to the dock still stands. We called it the Summer House—our gateway to beach and boats, and the launch pad for our dad’s ritual Friday night dash. He would greet us, then delight us with his dive into the river to wash away the work week. Descending the stairs, I picture my brother, John, playing for hours in a rowboat tethered to the dock, Molly dog paddling by the shore, and Mandy, trembling as the rest of us cheered the fireworks exploding over the harbor.
The dune that sheltered my sisters and me as we desperately tanned on blustery high school days has disappeared, along with most of our beach. Erosion has taken its toll, making the steep drop from the lawn more shear, exposing the roots of trees that may soon topple. After paying homage to the two trees that once held my favorite reading hammock, I take my leave of the old place and bike to the destination of countless mornings as a kid, the tennis backboard.