Monday, September 19, 2016

Moving a Lifetime

We found it on a dreary, icy February Sunday. Close to the city we loved and wanted to frequent more, it was an ugly, dirty brown stucco house, listing to the left, with sad dandelions and other unidentifiable weeds disguised as a front lawn.

We wanted it the minute we stepped out of the car.

Taking an estimated five months to make the new-to-us house habitable gave us time to sort through twenty years of stuff in our current house. Stuff that was shoved into the attic, basement, kids’ closets, under beds.

We assumed our clean out tasks would be a breeze. A cinch. A snap.

Older son’s closet belched out dozens of boxes of baseball cards, little league awards, and speech and debate trophies, along with stacks of high school math and political science notebooks. “I don’t want anything,” he claimed. “Throw it all out.” I made judgment calls, donated or threw out a bunch of stuff and boxed up items that I deemed important.

Our daughter deigned to travel to the suburbs one more time to peruse her childhood belongings. She packed up some letters, books, old CDs. We reminisced about summer camp and quizzed each other with “Gilmore Girls” quotes. “What do we do with the Beanie Babies?” she asked, pulling out green garbage bags filled with the stuffed animals. She chose two to take with her, and tossed the rest.

Younger son, the one still living at home when not at school, was not a tosser. He wanted to keep everything. Everything. The Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks. The Legos. Pokeman cards. I relented: “Pack everything up. We’ll shove it into the new basement.”

Many carloads of filled-to-the-brim moving boxes later, with a new basement fuller than anticipated, we trekked to our newly renovated home, excited for this next phase to begin.

Previously published in Silver Birch Press

Monday, September 12, 2016

Beach Days

I am sitting in my striped beach chair, close to the white sand, under the red umbrella, Kindle in hand. Every morning this week in August, Steve carries the umbrella to the bay beach near our rental house and secures it in the spot that I like, near the beach grass, out of the way. He then returns to the house to work on the shaded deck, fielding phone calls and reviewing contracts while enjoying the sea breeze from there. I read. And people watch. From time to time, my left sand sifts through the shiny, soft sand by my side and I inhale the salt that drifts in from the water. We are both totally content in these peaceful beach days, days to think and dream and maybe get a little work done. I return to the house around noon to make a tuna sandwich or a salad and iced tea. I pull out my laptop to write for a few hours, then return to the beach to enjoy the late afternoon sun and thinning crowd. Steve comes back down to watch the sun set over the water and we discuss where we’ll go for dinner.  “How about Abba?” I suggest. He carries the umbrella back to the house. Later on, after dinner, we’ll read or watch a movie. We might drive up to Provincetown for an ice cream cone in our little 2-seater convertible, enjoying the cooling hum of the evening. Each day blends into the next, and there’s a wonderful timelessness when I’m not sure if it’s Tuesday or Thursday and I really don’t care. For a full week I can push aside daily worries and concerns, some major, some minor, and consume myself with oysters and corn on the cob and gin and tonics.
We began coming to the Cape over twenty years ago, when our three kids were toddlers and preschoolers. Instead of tossing a couple of suitcases and some sunscreen into the tiny trunk of the 2-seater like we do now, we jammed the mini-van to overflowing: stroller, port-a-crib, buckets and shovels and swimming noodles, games and books, safety gates for stairs, luggage and beach towels and beach blankets for five people. The week before we left, I made lists and lists of stuff to bring and ran around town to collect the necessities we didn’t already have. After the van was full inside, we strapped five bikes to the back and to the roof. The helmets barely fit under the seats. I poured myself into the front seat, wiped out before we had barely begun.
Beach days with three young kids stretch into infinity; like the beach days I have now, except they are non-stop action. Three meals a day, most of which were prepared in the beach house kitchen, with the occasional foray to the fried clam shack. My kids, restaurant aficionados now, were not fun to take out to eat when they were young. Packing up for a day at the beach was no day at the beach. Coolers filled with lunch and snacks. The required beach toys. Chairs, blankets and multiple umbrellas. Steve would, like he does these days, lug all the stuff to the beach, set up, stay and play for awhile and then head back to the house to work. I was constantly on the move, in the water, out of the water. We built sand castles, played whiffle ball, collected shells, reapplied sunscreen. At the end of the day, after showers and baths washed away the stubborn sand, I was exhausted but self-satisfied.  Now, as adults, they remember those beach days and sigh.
“Remember when we were on the beach right before the hurricane?”
“Remember when we had lobster races across the back deck?”
“Remember when Connor would fling himself into the waves, like, 20 times and you had to keep dragging him out?”  
One afternoon last summer (maybe it was Wednesday, maybe Friday), I watched a mother about 25 years my junior chasing her two young kids all over the sand and into the water, while I sat alone under my umbrella enjoying the latest Ann Leary novel. On one of her many trudges up and down the beach, she stopped. “You have no idea how much I envy you right now.” I looked up. “I know you don’t want to hear this,” I told her. “Enjoy this time. It’s over in a flash.”
I took a sip of my water, and went back to my book.