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Memories of my first love: Craigville Beach

Craigville Beach in Centerville, MA


For a brief time in my life, Craigville Beach was synonymous with “Cape Cod.” Little did I know that eventually the area would become a lifelong touchstone.

Perhaps they were crazy but on more than one steamy, humid Sunday, my folks would take us to church (early Mass), then pack us into our non air-conditioned Oldsmobile and make the nearly two-and-one-half hour trip from Shrewsbury to Centerville for a day at the beach.

We wore our bathing suits under our Sunday clothes; undoubtedly, sandwiches in wax paper and cold drinks—and Dixie cups—were packed in a cooler. Neither the Mid-Cape Highway, nor for that matter, Route 6, had been perfected at that time in the 1960s and Route 495 didn’t yet exist, so we drove over the Cranberry Highway, through New Bedford, Wareham and Buttermilk Bay, passing souvenir stands, the giant milk bottle of Frates Dairy and a few clam shacks. There was nary a fast food place in sight; back then Howard Johnson’s, with its 28 flavors, was the epitome of road food.

The ride was long but oh, the excitement and anticipation of racing into the briny, sparkling ocean—no matter how cold. It was worth the wait. Being vigilant parents, Mom and Dad had us kids festooned in brick-colored life jackets (no wonder I never learned to swim), and we were forbidden to go into the water until at least 30 minutes after we had scarfed down our tuna or ham and cheese sandwiches. I also don’t remember being lathered in sunscreen; as the afternoon sun waned, we were urged to put on a T-shirt.

Sandy and salty, we reluctantly trooped back to the car for the interminable ride home. We changed into shorts and tops in the car and prayed that Dad would stop at HJ’s for a longed-for ice cream cone. Pistachio was a favorite! We may have been a bit sunburned, but were refreshed beyond belief.

Today, as a Cape resident I return to Craigville, maybe to capture that youthful memory. The beach looks different to me, wider, maybe flatter but still revealing that endless blue-on-blue vista. Sometimes I walk the beach; other times, I sit in the car with a book or a sandwich with just the gulls for company.

Craigville Beach opened the door to so many Cape Cod memories: the bridges; the long-gone breakfast place on Park Avenue in Centerville run by Freda Bowen; white clapboard and black shuttered Cape houses that line Main Street in the village; sand; shells; a feeling of being secure; bracing waves and salt-up-your-nose headstands; bathing caps; life jackets; bathing slippers; changing in the car; sand-encrusted grapes; ginger ale in a paper cup; Wise potato chips; and the “beach wagon Olds.”

It’s funny how a glistening crescent of beach shores up so many vivid memories. Craigville was my first Cape Cod beach. You never forget your first love.

A resident of West Harwich, Rita Richardson is a writer and proofreader who recently helped edit Reflections, the literary magazine for Cape Cod Community College’s Lifelong Learning program. She gains inspiration for daily visits to the beach—no matter the weather.

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