It turns out you can go home again, sort of, as long as you don’t expect it to be the same. As long as you see it through your kids’ eyes and are comfortable walking in your own footsteps.
At least that’s how it seemed to me this week on Cape Cod. We made our pilgrimage to Crosby Lane and I floated in the warm, clear bay. For a few blissful minutes the intervening years vanished and I still had some purchase on this place. I grieved the loss of our cabins and celebrated introducing a new generation to the tidepools. I visited the fiddler crabs in the marsh, where an osprey platform now stands.
Million dollar houses gape through openings in the woods at the back of the salt marsh where once the bobwhites roamed the pine-oak forest. Cape bobwhites are scarce these days and I wasn’t surprised by their absence. On the beach, though, new birds have appeared (or returned). There are now piping plovers where there were none in the 60s and 70s.
The Crosby Mansion (once a girls’ weight loss camp) looks lovely all restored. Part of the former camp’s grounds are now the overflow lot for the beach. The sound of reveille still hangs in the air in my memory, though no one else can hear it over the tinny ice cream truck in the town parking lot.
But the beach, despite being public and more crowded, is still the beach. The sand is powdery, the dune grass and beach roses release their scent in the heat. The hermit crabs (and spider crabs and leopard spotted crabs) still roam the tidepools. My kids roamed too, exclaiming over their finds in the timeless way of all Cape kids. They found a horseshoe crab way out (the tide goes out for a mile) and a squid, something I never saw as a child.
I sank my feet in the sand along paths through the grass out to what were once cabin sites and the road in front of the cabins. I pictured coming back to the cabin for lunch–rinsing my feet in the bucket and coming in to make a sandwich. If I closed my eyes, I could see the cabin in the evening, illuminated by lamplight after sunset.
But the cabins are gone. (Camping at Nickerson during a gypsy moth infestation made me really miss the cabins, but that’s another story.) Part of the jetty is gone too, perhaps to keep the beach from eroding. I couldn’t sit on the way-out rock where the waves slapped at high tide, so I sat on a new rock, and isn’t that a perfect metaphor for trying to recapture the past? It’s a little weird to picture yourself as a child and adult in the same place and time, as E.B.White noted in “Once More to the Lake.” But there I was and am. Once More to the Beach?
Here’s what I discovered during this sojourn: I have the power to turn back time. My childhood exists a mere four hours from my house–at least a sketchy semblance of it. Fortunately, though, I don’t need to make the trip again any time soon. For now, it’s good to know some of my remembered Cape is still there and that when I get the urge to visit, I can always cross the bridge.