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Endless Summers at Craigville Beach

In 1954 my mother received a small inheritance and decided to spend the money on a vacation rental. After waiting sixteen years, my father would finally get to return to Craigville. So, in August 1955, my family, which now counted five children, made their first epic overnight twelve-hour drive from Western New York, traveling over the newly expanded four-lane Route 6, and pulling into Hyannis in time for breakfast.  The family fell, and fell hard, for this enchanting corner of the world. Besides the beach and the rafts, there were volleyball matches on the Village Green, fishing on Lake Elizabeth, penny candy at the 1856 Country Store, and never enough Four Seas Ice Cream. Late nights found three generations gathered, playing Fan-Tan and betting pennies with our Grammy Kelley.

That first trip was cut short by Hurricane Diane, which was headed toward the Cape. The Cape had been devastated by Hurricane Carol one year before, so my family fled inland to the home of our Aunt Helen in Worcester. Diane followed anyway, flooding Worcester and sparing the Cape. After that, my father was less likely to run from hurricanes.

Of course, everyone wanted to return, and the Cape became an annual destination. In 1957, Patti Page had a number three hit with “Old Cape Cod;” more folks were catching on to the magic. Along the way, Craigville shifted for us from a mere vacation destination to something more like a pilgrimage, complete with rituals and traditions.  After the long drive from New York, there was a competition to see who would spot the Sagamore Bridge first. When we got as far as Plymouth, experienced bridge-spotters would watch out the car window, trying to see when the shoulder of the road turned sandy. When it did, the kids would crane their necks, one lucky soul claiming victory as they shouted, “I see the Bridge!’”

In 1960, my father had a house built on 7th Avenue in nearby West Hyannisport. This led to long luxurious summers where the kids measured time by how many days it had been since they’d been required to wear shoes. On the second floor of the pavilion at CBA, there was a ping-pong room and a deck that was high enough so that you could clearly see Martha’s Vineyard on the horizon. On special evenings, the ping-pong tables were shoved aside and teenagers danced to “The Twist” and the hits of Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. And that little boy who won at Race Day in 1925 had grown up to become JFK. My older siblings recall President Kennedy’s helicopter coming and going overhead on its way to and from Hyannisport.

By 1966, the family had swelled to eight kids (by order of age: Mike, Brian, Cathy, John, Mary, Joe, Connor and, yours truly, Kevin). My family swarmed over the CBA beach club. Mike was a lifeguard, Brian worked for Charlie Howes at the CBA snack bar, gave sailing lessons and ran a boat rental concession at the beach next door, Cathy also worked at the snack bar and John tended the parking lot. I have distinct memories from the late 60s and early 70s, hiding out from the sun under the pavilion, the Beatles and James Taylor on someone’s transistor radio. I can see my family spread across the beach, my parents in their float chairs bobbing in the gentle waves; Joe tossing the football with his buddy, Rick; Connor, always cleaning up at Race Day, and Mary reading and writing in her journal under an umbrella. A poem Mary wrote describes the melancholy of summer’s end:

“All summer waves roll shoreward, slanting in

But Labor Day, a north wind comes

and waves turn heel and race straight out to sea …

rafts tug on ropes as if to free themselves…

When we were children it seemed a miracle

and we’d stare in admiration

as sand blew at our legs and made them sting

It was never enough

The most beautiful time in our Oceanside village

and we were always leaving…”

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