Endless Summers at Craigville Beach
In 1967, my father sold our cottage to pay for the college tuition bills that were coming his way. But we kept returning anyway, renting homes along the Centerville River or in Old Craigville. My father loved nothing more than watching the sunset while walking on Long Beach. And, he loved storms. Rather than evacuate from the occasional hurricane, my father’s response now was to say, “Let’s go to the beach.” When the waves at CBA were cresting at ten or twelve feet, he considered conditions ideal, and he would dive in, fists first, get past the breakers, and laugh as he floated about in the storm. I remember one such wind storm; while he swam, I tied a kite to the handlebars of my bike and went sailing across the Craigville Beach parking lot.
Sadly, my father passed away in 1980. But his gift to us kept on giving, and our connection to the Cape only deepened. My mother moved to Osterville in 1981, Brian founded the magazine you are now reading in 1979, and I launched my writing career with The Story of Cape Cod, a rhyming verse picture book for children.
Meanwhile, between the 1970s and early 2000s, a fourth generation, my nieces and nephews, were enjoying new traditions like Game Night, where they played Red Rover and dug for watermelons hidden in the sand by the lifeguards. Now it was my nephew, Mike Miller, cleaning up at Race Day, while his sister Kate learned to drive in the CBA parking lot. Their brother Chris (who slept in Locker 178 one night during college) remembers taking sand home at the end of the summer so he’d have a piece of CBA with him all winter. And where my brother Mike had been a lifeguard in the 1960s, now it was my nephew, another Mike Shortsleeve, who kept vigil from the guard chair.
My mother, now referred to as Grandma Peg, kept coming, ignoring doctor’s orders to keep out of the sun. When she could no longer drive, my brother Joe inherited her CBA parking space.
In 2016, my niece Cassie was married at CBA. This was the first of two reunions that brought all of my siblings and their kids together at Craigville. This party was ”epic,” as my niece described it.
These days my siblings show up at CBA with their grandchildren, introducing a fifth generation to our old haunt.
Another reunion happened this past February. If my father had been alive, he would have turned 100 on February 9. My nephew, Chris Miller, suggested we all get together that weekend and celebrate his life. It was a beautiful idea.
The whole family pulled together. Everyone was given a job, and the party preparations got under way. The first task was to find a location that my father would have liked. Naturally, Craigville came to mind. The next problem was that the location had to accommodate the entire extended family, which now included twenty-one grandchildren, their spouses, and eighteen great grandchildren—nearly seventy people all together. If you look back at that photo of Cassie’s wedding, you’ll notice that up on the bluff behind CBA sit two large structures. They are the Lodge and the Manor House for the Craigville Retreat Center. We made contact, reserved both buildings, and started assigning names to the rooms, ultimately filling seventeen of them.
My father apparently also got involved in the planning—from the celestial beyond; it had to have been him who arranged for the wind storm that knocked the lights out all over the Cape as we arrived on Friday—and then he sent us an enormous Snow Moon to watch over the gathering on Saturday night.
We assembled for sunset, looking across the Centerville River to the house on the hill where he stayed on that first visit in 1938.
Back inside the cozy old lodge, there were photo displays, old family super 8 films that had been uploaded to YouTube, music from the 1940s that my father loved, and time gathered ‘round the fire, where we took turns telling stories about “The Doc,” as we affectionately refer to him. There was plenty of laughter, and even a few tears.
And just before midnight, a hardy group of revelers left the party for the beach at CBA, where they went swimming. Yes. Swimming. In February. It was too dark to photograph, but I did let the camera on my cell phone roll, so I could record the screams.
What better way to honor my father’s memory—the man who delighted in swimming in hurricanes? There were his children and grandchildren gathered in his honor, diving into the frozen waters of Nantucket Sound.
My family has always known how to have a good time. We got that from our parents. My memory is that family meals, which usually began as formal sit-down dinners, often dissolved into comedy routines. Mom and Dad knew what mattered most in these good times; they knew the secret formula. The people—having everyone together—was most important. And, the place mattered too. Craigville was, and remains, our place.
Kevin Shortsleeve is Associate Professor of English at Christopher Newport University. He is the author of various essays and books, including the children’s book, The Story of Cape Cod. He is also Brian’s brother.
Information on Craigville Retreat Center can be found at uccr.org
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