The gravel road was exceptionally rough on our feet. When we walked the distance between the dock and our driveway without flinching it meant we had finally acquired “summer soles” – feet toughened by days spent bare.
Towels draped around our necks, we’d head out into the night air, giggling as we darted between fireflies. Sometimes we’d stop to catch one – their little bodies startlingly substantial in our clasped hands. Something so magical should feel like air.
At the end of the dock, we’d drop our towels and scamper down the ladder, one by one. It was more or less of a climb depending on the tide. Or we’d bravely leap into darkness, suspended for a moment just like the fireflies until our wingless bodies succumbed to gravity and plunged into the salty water. Dark as ink before our contact, the water would suddenly spring to life and light, sparkling as our hands brushed phosphorescent creatures. We’d laugh and splash and shriek as we bumped into each other. Settling onto our backs, we’d look up at the stars as we floated between dark and dark, surrounded by things that glistened.
This is the joy of summer days spent away from home, surrounded by cousins, surrounded by the sea. Our grandparents owned a little house near Long Island Sound and each summer we’d drive through traffic and heat to convene, whether for a weekend or a week or more. These days were always the most eagerly anticipated of my summer. They were days spent with crusty hair and salty skin and a body that barely stopped until crashing into bed. Even then, I sometimes felt myself rocking with the movement of waves until I finally drifted off to sleep.
This summer, decades later, we bid farewell to this family home. We open our hands and let go of a house and the moment is bittersweet. For my mother and her siblings, it is especially so, as their memories wrapped up in that place double mine. But for all of us, it is a letting go paired with the recognition that the time is right.
My family recently journeyed south for a farewell visit. A new gaggle of cousins padded the wood floors with soft toddler feet. My sister and I jogged together as we did as teens, this time pushing strollers ahead of our strides. My mother is now the grandma, gathering babes into her arms to read a story.
Time moves, houses sell, families grow and shift. But memories stay. I hope I never forget the specific sound of the water slapping the boats as I stretched out on a dock on which a former boyfriend had etched his name. I lost a shoe over the edge of that dock once, and the sole is likely still disintegrating somewhere at the bottom of that sea (whoops). I hope the shrieks of “Get the net! Get the net!” – a common cry during our many crabbing adventures – never fade from the echoes of my mind.
And I hope I never forget how it feels to be nurtured by love, good food, the sun and the salty air, with each day a new adventure and each moment precious in a way I only now fully understand. It wasn’t just about the place, although it’s a pretty darn special one. We unconsciously lived those days as an active celebration of the most important and more lasting aspects of life: family, love, and nature. While the house may pass, those things remain.