The first time I came to Cape Cod, I was three weeks old. It was 1970 and my grandparents owned a small, two bedroom ranch in South Dennis on Old Bass River Road where they spent their summers and many getaways in the fall and spring. They had upgraded from their 60s vacation camper and it was a wonderful thing because it meant there was now room for my parents and me - my sister wouldn't arrive for four more years. The living room walls were planked in traditional knotty pine. It had an outdoor shower (an absolute requirement on the Cape, then and now), a screened porch off the side of the house - the "breezeway" - a sandy driveway and no garage. The yard was scrub pines which dropped twigs and pine cones everywhere, oak saplings and not one blade of grass, save for the occasional lump of crabgrass. Walking barefoot was de rigeur and took physical and mental fortitude to make it from one side of the yard to the other while dodging sticks and prickly pine cones. Forever since, the smell of damp pine needles on the ground immediately transports me to that yard.
My friend Craig lived a street over and we spent lazy afternoons using our white rope hammock strung beneath two of the sturdiest pines as an inefficient swing. At night, my grandparents would drive their apple green VW pop up camper into the back yard for special kid sleepovers. Cousins who had put down their own Cape summer roots in Eastham were frequent visitors, bringing fishing rods and raw chicken with string for blue crabbing. Many rounds of cards were played at night and Seagram's 7 and 7s were my grandmother's and her friends' cocktail of choice. There was laughter and fun and a lot of both.
We got to the A&P, the only grocery store within miles, via a dirt road from Upper County Rd. into the back of the store's property on Rt. 28. A dirt road from Main St. in Dennis also got us to Harney's for live lobsters, peanut butter & jelly, bread, milk, and cocktail ingredients - the necessities of summer. Now closed for decades, I still remember the layout of the store we were there so often.
A nameless pond near the house was the habitat of countless "peepers", tiny frogs the size of your fingernail that live near the water. I'd pedal my light blue, banana seat bike to the pond with a sand pail hanging from the handlebars and gently collect as many peepers as I could. Back at home, I built elaborate outdoor frog houses and furniture using sticks, rocks, and leaves and still remember my surprise when they immediately hopped out the door. The sofas were never used once.
When we were around 8, Craig and I and other neighborhood friends were allowed to ride our bikes to the penny candy counter at the Red Cottage to buy candy cigarettes, wax bottles with sugary colored liquid in them, and gum shaped like an LP record that had songs like My Sharona printed on the packaging. I never wanted to leave without a sour apple Jolly Rancher stick (which cut the roof of my mouth every time, but I loved anyway), but when I didn't have enough change in my rubber coin purse to buy anything really good, I made do with those colored candy dots on paper - the only thing that cost less than five cents.
My grandfather, Poppa Red, taught me to dig littlenecks, cherrystones and razor clams at low tide on our bayside beaches, no permit needed. We would look for shoots of water coming up from the sand and dig as fast as we could. Nearly always successful at finding the clam, we occasionally encountered a dreaded sand worm which would put me off of clamming until the next time. In the late afternoon, we'd head home with our bushel of clams, ready to be steamed open on the grill.
This is my 52nd year of living on and loving Cape Cod. 52 years of many great memories, and many more to come. The dirt roads to buy groceries are gone, but the huge place in my heart for the Cape will never change. It's been one of life's great blessings to share the Cape with my own kids - who each made their first trip here at three weeks old, just like their mom.
Some traditions are worth keeping.
(This is me at 11 months snoozing on my grandfather, Poppa Red, in the breezeway. )