Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The End of an Era

I feel sad today. It’s as if an era has ended; only no one but me, and possibly my siblings, is aware of it.

Today I learned from my nearly 89-year-old father that he and my mother would not be traveling to their summer home on Cape Cod this year. Or ever again. Moreover, he and my mother have decided to put the cottage up for sale.

Almost as an afterthought, dad told me that he had failed the vision test when he went to the BMV to get his driver’s license renewed.

And then it became clear to me. Because dad has to give up his car keys, and mom no longer drives, they will never again be able to stay up at their summer cottage for months at a time as they had been doing every year since they retired more than twenty years ago. 

The closest of their children is nearly four hours away from the cottage so no one can make a quick run to the grocery store for them. We cannot take their dirty towels and clothes to the laundromat since the cottage doesn’t have the modern convenience of a washer and dryer. And we can’t easily check on them to make sure they are okay and their needs are being met.

My siblings and I are relieved to hear that our parents will not attempt to stay so far away for so many months this year. And we are relieved that there won’t be a repeat episode like last year when my father’s sudden hospitalization left us scrambling to get up there to take care of them.
But it still seems like the end of an era to me. 

No longer will we have family gatherings at the cottage that my grandparents built back in the early '50s. 

No longer will we get together for milestone events such as our parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated only three short years ago. 

And no longer will we hold our annual “Lobster Fests” – that one fun evening where we all sit around the table talking and laughing and dunking succulent pieces of lobster in little bowls of butter.
My siblings and I grew up in this cottage. We can remember days long ago when summers seemed carefree and endless. We couldn’t wait until our annual two-week August vacation at Parkwood Beach when we would dig our toes in the sand and jump in the ocean and play in the waves.

When we were young and our grandparents were alive and doted on us. When they gave us coins from Nanna’s change purse and allowed us to race down the street after the ice cream truck to buy ourselves a frosty treat. And when we showed off our swimming and diving skills – or our exemplary sand castle-building skills – to much applause.  To kids with grandparents such as ours, we were talented and unstoppable. And we were well loved.

Eventually, Grandpa passed and Nanna was alone at the cottage. Visiting her was still magical, but we were growing up and some of the carefree sense of our youth was diminishing. Our parents would take a much-needed break from the four of us kids and leave us in the care of our grandmother.  We can recall the times Nanna would pile us all into her big green monster of a car for a road trip.  With her head barely clearing the dashboard, she would shakily drive three hours to Provincetown so that by the time we arrived, the three of us in the back seat were queasy and a bit car sick.

But that didn't stop our adventures. I remember bits and pieces of those road trips, including a stop one afternoon in a Provincetown bar where a bartender sporting colorful tattoos up and down his arms tried to bully the little old white-haired lady into taking her four charges out of his bar. Our diminutive 4'11" tall Nanna stood her ground and eventually the four of us sat at a table picking at the hamburgers he grudgingly fixed for us.

Years later, I wondered about this. Were there no other, more suitable, restaurants open just then? Or did Nanna, once she realized she had taken us to a bar and not a restaurant, refuse to allow the burly bartender to intimidate her?  Either way, it has become one of those fond memories etched deep in my arsenal of “Nanna stories.”
And it makes me smile whenever I think about it.

Our trips to the cottage included an annual Deep Sea fishing excursion with our dad. It was a rite of passage and when we turned 9, we were allowed to join the party. I was so excited when I was finally of age to join my dad and older brother, that I forgot to be squeamish about things like threading the fish hook with raw pieces of clam and about squirming fish on the end of my fishing pole and about smelly fish guts.  Or about having to be ready to walk out the door by 6 a.m.

Driving to Plymouth to board one of Captain John’s party boats was a bonding experience with my dad that lasted until a few years ago when Dad was a bit too frail and his eyesight too bad to continue.

The end of that tradition made me sad, too.

As young adults, I remember a time or two when my siblings and I stayed at the cottage by ourselves. It felt odd sitting on the porch having a drink before dinner without grandparents or parents there to supervise, but considering we were of legal drinking age, we quickly got over that and had a wonderful time.

And in my 20s, I remember bringing friends a couple different times to explore the Cape, which was a learning experience for me as well, since my family tended to stick closer to the cottage during our vacations and we didn’t often do the “tourist” thing.

One of my favorite trips was in 2009 when I brought my newly-minted husband to the cottage after our wedding. We hadn’t planned an immediate honeymoon and my parents suggested we take a few days off and drive back with them. I think my dad simply didn’t want to make the long drive on his own and he was grateful for Vince’s driving expertise at getting us there safe and sound (and fast).

We also didn’t relish the thought of sharing our “honeymoon” with my parents. But Vince and I were able to take a couple days to drive down the Cape and explore the area. And we had some wonderful experiences and have some great memories of our time there.

In recent years, my trips to the Cape have been more of a task and responsibility rather than simply a pleasurable vacation. As dad’s vision has steadily diminished, he has gratefully accepted our offer to make the drive for them. Thus, I have either driven my parents to the cottage in June or have driven them back to Ohio in October. Neither of these stays at the cottage is long enough to allow me time to sink my toes in the sand at the beach. Not that I’d particularly want to sink my toes in the sand in mid-October, but you get the idea.
So, while I know that every beginning has an end, I am still a little sad that this is the end of an era.

Yet, I have a lifetime of incredible experiences and happy memories to sustain me when I get sad about it. 

And I hope the memories they share also comfort my mom and dad as they say goodbye to a place that has been a part of their lives for so many decades.

Saying goodbye is easy, said no one ever.  But here's one last toast to you, little cottage at Parkwood Beach. Thank you for the decades you protected us and kept us safe and happy. 

And, as Bob Hope (apropros for my folks my parents' age!) once sang, "Thanks for the memories!"

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