Roundabout 1939 or so, my late (maternal) grandfather had the foresight to purchase an amazing house about half a block from one of the most beautiful beaches in Massachusetts. He retired there, had the home winterized, and when he died in 1987, he left a trust fund to ensure the upkeep and maintenance of the house.
The house has since become the heart and soul of our extended family. It's served as refuge from troubles for more than one family member, and repeatedly been the go-to location for celebrations large and small. If a pile of horsehair plaster, stone, wood, and one really strong cast-iron lally pole can be animate, then the Beach House is definitely alive and well.
Not a summer has gone by in my 40-something years when I haven't been there for a day or a week, sometimes two. I've been alone, with friends, with family, had parties, and not. I've introduced college roomates' (and then their spouses and children) to the house. I left that house a one afternoon as a single woman and came back 24 hours later, married. I spent the first half of my honeymoon idling away afternoons, remarking to my new husband that yes, being married does feel different.
When the hot humid green New England summer rolls in, the house comes into its fully occupied, noisy glory as our family hub. Cousins and their spouses and children, neighbors, aunts and uncles rotate in and out; our paths all crossing. Up and down the hill from the front yard to the beach go the sunburned and sandy, straight into the frigid Atlantic in cycle unbroken for four generations.
Except for this year.
In order to add a bit to the dwindling "house fund", a tough decision was made to rent the house for several months (summer included). The decision was smart, heartbreaking, and thankfully, a one-time thing.
So what do I do now? What do I do without the one thing that was a balm to my soul?
I will not see my cousins and note the years advancing on all our faces; I will not quickly recall summers past, and see them played out again through the joyful sounds of the current generation intently pondering the mystery of starfish captured in a pink plastic bucket.
Instead, strangers will sit on our porch, in our house.
But as Yoda said to Obi-Wan Kenobi's glowy ghost in "The Empire Strikes Back", perhaps there is another. I found a place that, though pale in comparison and lacking the memory-weight of the Beach House, offers a similar feeling. It's not the same, this place--nothing can be--but I'll spend a week there in July and maybe, just maybe, I'll feel a little less like I lost a piece of myself.