When I was little, my family used to rent a cottage on Cape Cod for two weeks every summer. Those weeks at the beach are among my fondest memories of childhood. Fourteen or fifteen ramshackle cottages, known simply as Hopkins’ Cottages, lined a stretch of beach along Cape Cod Bay in Brewster. Simply furnished and feebly maintained, the one unifying feature of each was a screened porch that looked out to the bay. The view from that porch was of endless sea and sky.
The beach below was perfect for families with young children, for when the tide went out, an enormous swath of mudflats emerged filled with quahogs and hermit crabs and other wonderful remnants from the deep. It was enough to make my heart leap for joy at what treasures awaited me on the beach each morning.
By day we would camp out on the sand with blankets and umbrellas and folding beach chairs. There would be pails and shovels and inflatable swim tubes, and a cooler stocked with cold drinks and sandwiches. Each family staked a claim of beach directly in front of their rental cottage, and kids would frolic in and out of the water between two enormous jetties jutting into the bay. Morning ebbed into afternoon and afternoon into evening, when slowly the beach erased itself of all traces of humanity and the sun sank into the sea.
After dark the cottages would emanate the warm glow of lamplight, and laughter would spill out into the night air. There were no televisions to entertain us, just a record player, some board games and a deck of cards. As soon as I could count to ten, my father taught me how to play poker at that summer cottage. He started me with a game he called “Spit in the Ocean”. Four cards were dealt and whatever card he flipped from the top of the deck was “wild”. I quickly learned about straights and flushes and full houses.
Those were heady times, our summer beach vacations. Two seemingly never-ending weeks of the year holed up in a shack at the beach with nothing more to worry about than filling my pail with sand and splashing in the ocean.
We drove down that way, Rich and I, the other day. It was the first really nice day we’d had in a long time. The thermometer hovered near 50 and the sun shone brightly on trees that were beginning to show signs of budding. We ambled down Route 6A, the Old King‘s Highway, past the shuttered windows of our favorite clam shacks and ice cream shops. The day was warm enough to lure homeowners into their yards for the first of many spring clean-up chores. Lawns were raked of winter’s debris, and flower beds readied for planting. Spring is still several weeks away, but we hardy Cape Codders long to be outdoors, if only to survey what needs cleaning or repairing after winter’s long visit.
We drove through Brewster, past the General Store and the Ladies Library, through the center of the village and on towards Orleans. I spied the roadway that leads down towards Hopkins’ Cottages and for a moment I was a kid again, tucked into my father’s station wagon filled with sand toys and beach gear headed to our shack on the beach for two weeks of summer fun. I could smell the beach grass and the pungent aroma of mudflats, hear the distant waves lap against the shore, and feel the warm sand sift through my fingers. In my heart I wanted Rich to make that turn, to take me back to where I’d spent so many happy days as a child. But in my head I knew that sometimes even the faintest of memories are far better preserved when left untainted by the truth, and that by driving past the road that led to our old beach cottage, I could return to the beach and be that kid again whenever I needed.